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Dark Paths, Cold Trails: A Mountie’s Quest to Link Serial Killers to Their Victims

by Doug Clark

A book that devotes several chapters to the likes of Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo is bound to compel attention. And the sections of Dark Paths, Cold Trails where author Doug Clark sets out to understand their criminal behaviour do just that. It is when he departs from this disturbing subject matter that Clark loses his way.

Too bad, since the inability of traditional police procedure to cope with sexual predators like Olson and Bernardo is important, as is the resistance of the police to the new high-tech solutions like profiling and crime computer databases such as ViCLAS (Violent Crime Linkage Analyst System). It was former Mountie Ron McKay, Canada’s first profiler, who tirelessly championed these innovations, and this book is his story.

There is a good tale to tell here but Clark, a freelance journalist, never really gets around to telling it. Clark has McKay flying around the country giving speeches promoting ViCLAS and preparing suspect profiles, but it is never clear what his job actually entails or even, other than being a dedicated crime-fighter, what kind of a guy McKay is. Crimes with little in common other than the horror they evoke (Clark is unstinting with the gory details) are committed and solved. New law enforcers, politicians, and criminals are introduced with fanfare, and their entire life stories told before they disappear a few pages later. Most frustrating of all, we never get to see either profiling or ViCLAS in action. The fact that they played a role in apprehending a killer is stated rather than demonstrated.

Clark is clearly motivated by a desire to convince Canadians of the need for a nationwide “mandated compliance” to enable the ViCLAS system to work, as well as for an increased number of trained profilers. And, as a public-spirited plea for a new technology-friendly, co-operative police force, Dark Paths, Cold Trails is commendable and even heartfelt. It is also chaotic, confusing, and fails to drive its point home.