Denver true-crime writer Harry MacLean

(Courtesy Julya O'Brien)

This story first aired on Sept. 2, 2015. 

"The joy of killing. The joy of seeing killing done -- these are traits of the human race at large." 

Those eerie words come from Mark Twain. They also appear in the title of a new book from Denver true-crime writer Harry MacLean, who typically writes nonfiction about small town murders.

"The Joy of Killing," however, is a novel. It takes readers into the unstable consciousness of an nameless college professor. He's tucked away, alone in a house from his childhood, to sort through the scenes of his life by writing about them. The professor ruminates on a number of memories: a run-in with the town pervert as a teen, his friend drowning, the betrayal of another friend and a teenage sexual encounter with a girl he met on a train. He also fantasizes about violence, as the line between what is real and what's not begins to blur.

While "The Joy of Killing" is a fictional tale, its ideas and themes -- the enticement of violence, the amorality of people and emotional consequences -- align with his previous work.

MacLean spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Click the audio above to listen to the full interview.

Read an excerpt:

Thunk! I jump back, startled. Something smashed into the window. Dropped to the windowsill. There is a faint stain on the glass. I lift the latch and push open the window. The night air is sharp and powerful. My hands and arms are so white in the moonlight I can see the blue veins, the magic disc so bright I can barely look into it. A dark form lays crumpled on the ledge below the window. Little black eyes stare blindly at the moon. A wing flutters in despair. I remember that bats flew in packs of thousands; this one must have lost his way, confused by the brightness of the light. I poke its wing gently. Its tiny furry body heaves jerkily. Still alive, I think. Just stunned. I lean over and lift the wing and stretch it out to full span. The tiny black struts arch in response. The skin is translucent; through it I can see blurry moonlight. The wing, half a foot at least, twitches from my finger and folds back in. The mouth pops open to reveal two fangs. Beyond myth, I know, there is such a thing as bloodsucking bats that feed on people and animals. 

I look closer: two smaller teeth arc up from the bottom to intersect nicely with the top ones. The glassy eyes don’t blink, but I swear they move slightly in my direction. I pull my hand back, and the tiny mouth clenches. I am tempted to brush him from the ledge, to see if it would bring him around and he could gain flight. I want to see him fly off and sweep across the face of the moon with his cohorts, taking with him my touch on his wings. The thought makes me shiver. I close the window quietly and turn away.

From THE JOY OF KILLING by Harry MacLean from Counterpoint Press. Copyright © 2015 by Harry MacLean and reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press.