Stephanie Churchill

Citron Press / 229 pages / 1999

To the list of warnings to keep you safe from serial killers, add: Never bet your life on a profile or a statistic. Trust the common wisdom about sociopaths and you may very well end up putting your trust in the wrong person — and it will be the last thing you do. Except, possibly, scream. Believe that all serial killers are men and you may find yourself at the mercy of a woman like Terry Donnelly.

Oh, and by the way, she has no mercy.

Terry is the finished product of a sociopath production line. Physically and mentally abusive mother. Weak, unprotecting father. And just enough latent instability to make her a killer. Let her spend 16 years in prison for killing those parents, and voilĂ ! serial criminal.

And now the system is ready to turn her loose on a society just bursting at the seams with potential victims. Too bad her need to kill has been building up over all those years. She’s ready to paint the town red.

Churchill has created a character of intelligence and no inhibitions, the perfect narrator for this chilling novel. As we see the world filtered through her perceptions, we realise how completely inhuman she is.

For those who try to apprehend the why of such crimes, Time To Prey is the perfect illustration of what makes that question so futile. Spend some time in Terry’s brain and you will realise that her mind is as alien from the average person as an amoeba’s would be. The thoughts and “values” of a sociopath bear no resemblance to a healthy, human mind. To ask for answers is pointless. To expect understanding is… well… insane.

After every such killing, the public wails, “How could they do that? How could anyone do that to another person?” Listen to Terry, and you will get as much enlightenment as you ever will. Pay attention to the way her thoughts move without hesitation from grocery shopping to the best place to butcher a victim. The smooth flow of mundane, daily concerns into murder and back to trivia is so sudden, so bland, that many times you will be beyond the horrifying reflection before the impact hits.

Because, for serial killers there is nothing significant about those particular thoughts. The green grocer is usually out of grapes on Thursday and I need to toss those bloodstained shoes.

Just as she so accurately nails the sociopathic mindset, she captures the insanity of a system that allows these lethal machines to return to take up where they left off.

There are so many good people anxious to help Terry get her life back to normal. As her lawyer, her parole officer, and the kindhearted souls who believe in a second chance for everyone are about to find out: you can’t cure a sociopath. And you can never set them free.