“The Watcher In The Wall” by Owen Laukkanen is a novel with a very dark subject matter. Known for his powerful and suspenseful stories Laukkanen continues this pattern with his latest book. He has dealt with Internet targeted killings that prey on young veteran’s emotions, human trafficking of teenage girls, and now this, a predator that encourages teenagers to commit suicide on a web-cam.
Early in the book readers understand that a stalker of sorts attempts to find teenagers who are depressed and want to end their life. In fact, the book cover and title play into this scenario. Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, partners in a joint BCA-FBI violent crimes task force stumble on this person. Stevens’ daughter is devastated when a classmate commits suicide. She asks them to investigate this voice of death and doom. What they find is an online suicide club of unhappy teenagers, presided over by an anonymous presence that seems to be encouraging them. Stevens and Windermere are driven to find this person and prevent him from convincing others to act on their feelings.
Laukkanen based the book on “the real-life case of online predator William Melchert-Dinkel. He is a Minnesota man who has counseled someone online and encouraged them to commit suicide. He is suspected of entering into fake suicide pacts with at least five other victims. All killed themselves at his instruction. At the time I started to write this story the case was working its way through the courts. I was stunned and frustrated with the justice system in that it appeared he would get away with it so I wrote this book about a similar predator. On appeal it was found that he could be retried for actively assisting in a victim’s suicide. Ultimately he was convicted last fall and served just 360 days in jail. Writing this story was therapeutic for me because I was so upset with the sentence of this real-life guy, so I decided to administer my own justice, which was more fitting.”
What makes the story more relatable are the backstories on Windermere and the Internet killer. After being brutally abused by his alcoholic stepfather as a young man he decides to turn the tables on his stepsister, giving her constant emotional abuse. She decides to take her life, and as she hangs herself she notices him watching her. Unfortunately he gets a high from this and decides to set up a website where he can encourage others to die at their own hands as he watches.