Book vs. Screen: Mindhunters by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

Comparison of Mindhunter by John Douglas to the Netflix TV Show

Title: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit
Author: John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
Release Date: August 1, 1996
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime
Pages: 397
Buy: Indigo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Rating: Book Club It

Movie: Mindhunter
Creator: Joe Penhall
Stars: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Anna Torv
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Genre: True Crime
Length: 2 Seasons
Rating: TV-MA
Watch: Netflix

DISCLAIMER: Images and discussion about murder and crimes.

So, like many of you I love a good Netflix binge, burritoed (yes, I know that isn’t a word) up on my couch with snacks, tea, and absolutely no concept of time except when Netflix asks me if I’m still watching. Yes, Netflix! I have been sitting here for 7 hours and haven’t moved, please stop judging me.

It does take a very good show for me to actually binge it all in one day, and Mindhunter was one of those shows for me. Before I decided to devote my life to being a professional bookworm and get a degree in English, I was set on becoming a Forensic Psychologist or Anthropologist. I have always had a love of true crime and a particular fascination with the workings of the crime, specifically the psychology of the criminal and the scene itself.

When I heard they were coming out with a TV show based on a book about the beginning of the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit my, murderino heart was beyond excited.

“At six feet belowground, we say we’re ten times deeper than dead people.”

– John E. Douglas, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit

I’ve owned John Douglas’ book for a while now, but just haven’t picked it up. But in the spirit of Spooky season I was in a true crime mood this October and finally picked it up.

Mindhunter Netflix Tv Show in comparison to the book
Bill Tench and Holden Ford
Copyright: Deadline

It is important to note that the TV show deviates a lot from the book. Given that the book is a first hand account of Douglas’ work, it’s very analytical and fact based, which means the TV show needed to add in some drama not in the book (more on the differences later).

Overall this book was phenomenal and I couldn’t help but devour it. The part of me that wanted to profile for a living loved the parts of this book that outlined the cases and then broke down how Douglas came up with the profile. It felt like a bit of a puzzle that the reader could play while reading – a chance to also build a profile in your head if you were so inclined. (You bet I fist pumped the air when I figured out the killer before the book told me.) Douglas interviewed many of crime history’s most famous serial killers, including Ed Kemper, Charles Manson, David Berkowitz, and Ted Bundy. He mentions many of these interviews in the book as well which gives more insight into the minds of these killers.

I could have done with less whining from Douglas about the FBI and less of the bureaucratic prattle. That dragged down the book a little and distracted from the profiling aspect of the book. I found myself skimming when any mention of how the FBI worked popped up. While it was good and interesting, it just wasn’t for me. Also, it seemed like Douglas could never do any wrong. He never messed up and every profile he gave was perfect. Given that this man literally helped create criminal profiling, he was learning on the job and there was no way he got everything correct.

Overall, this book is an amazing piece for fans of true crime. It really breaks down the profiling process and given that Douglas worked on many high-profile cases, it’s an interesting look into that aspect of those criminals. I would just recommend not to expect it to read like the TV show. Which leads me to the four ways the Netflix show and the book deviate!

4 Differences Between the Show and the Book

1/4
The Characters Are Not the Same

The book is written from the perspective of John Douglas, but the characters in the show are fictional. Jonathan Groff’s character, Holden Ford, is based off of John Douglas, and Bill Tench is based on another FBI agent ,Robert Ressler (who is not often mentioned in the book). Additionally, Anna Torv’s Wendy Carr is based on Ann Wolbert Burgess who I barely remember showing up in the book. Given it’s a TV show, the show’s characters are far more interesting to watch and get more developed and in-depth back stories than the book can give.

Mindhunter Netflix Tv Show in comparison to the book
Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), & Bill Tench (Holt McCallany)
Copyright: Cinemablend

2/4
The Book Doesn’t Focus on the Interviews

One of the my favourite parts of season 1 of Mindhunter is the interviews with Ed Kemper, a serial killer, rapist, and cannibal who killed ten people, three of which were his grandparents and mother. The interviews with him were part of what made me binge the show. Getting to see into the mind of a serial killer the way we do wasn’t something I had seen before, and although dramatized I was really interested in this part of the show. In contrast, Ed Kemper gets about five pages in the book. Same goes for Charles Manson who was prominent in season 2.

Mindhunter Netflix Tv Show in comparison to the book
Ed Kemper on his way to be interviewed.
Copyright: Netflix

3/4
The BTK Killer Isn’t in the Book

The BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) Killer is shown in the background throughout Mindhunter. He hasn’t come in contact with Holden or Tench yet, but he has multiple scenes throughout the series and the build up is there for him to become a villain in the show. The BTK Killer is never mentioned in the books as he wasn’t caught until 2005 and therefore still active when Mindhunter was written.

4/4
The Chicago Child Murders Are Not As Prominent In the Book

Similar to the last point, the Chicago Child Murders are the focus of the season 2, but only receive a chapter in the book. John Douglas did play a large part in this case in the same way Tench and Ford do. I did like how the show seemed to stick closely to the events of the book and as I was reading there were moments of ‘I remember when that happened in the show!’


Have you watched the show or read the book? Or both? What were your thoughts? Also, if there’s any other murderinos out there, please make yourself known so we can talk true crime!

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