Norman Bates, the “Psycho”, is a product of our times.
Essentially, that’s what Robert Bloch’s trilogy is all about.
I’ll admit it. They are, basically, mystery novels. The plot circulates around a serial killer. Bloody acts of violence occur. Sounds like nothing like you haven’t heard before. In Psycho, the fact that Norman Bates actually is the murderer is revealed after the plot twist ending. When the novel was first published it may have come as a surprise to many readers, but after decades of popularity, we all know this. In Psycho II, we are getting uncertain whether Norman Bates is the one actually carrying on with the murders. The confusion is getting even stronger in Psycho House. Here, the mystery is definitely not solved until the last ten or twenty pages.
However, after reading the trilogy for the first time, I feel they are so much more than a series of mystery novels. In 1959, Robert Bloch created a complex serial killer with a demented personality, a result of years of abuse and torment. Alfred Hitchcock immortalized him in hos blockbuster movie. Since then, Bates has received a life on his own in all kinds of media. Unfortunately, the novel sequels has fallen into obscurity. I feel it is a damned shame.
In the novels, the greed and the hypocrisy in society are central themes. In the first book, it is hinted that the uncaring world of mental hospitals and doctors are something to be avoided; sickness doesn’t make you responsible for your actions, no matter how brutal. In the sequels, Bloch is focusing on human greed and almost compulsive lust for money and fame. Media, and the possibility for success which it advocates, can transform a person into something ugly, diminishing all sense for morality.
And in the center: Norman Bates.
Just like in reality, he is a product. When he starts his murders he is a mystery, but after his incarceration he becomes an institution. He becomes a macabre inspiration for people wishing for quick fame. Even in the fictional world, he creates a franchise that gloats over people’s suffering and death. He helps to create an even more selfish society, filled with greedy and unmoral people.
Robert Bloch doesn’t even present alternatives, or gives us any hope. In the ending of Psycho House, one character even argues that evil is the dominating factor around us. The world of the Psycho novels is a dark one to explore. And I am fascinated by it. And if you get the opportunity to read this trilogy, I hope you will too. Robert Bloch deserves that kind of attention.
“The idea in PSYCHO, and in many of my so-called ‘psychological thrillers’ is a simple and obvious one: Don’t take candy from stranger.”– Interview with Robert Bloch by Randall D. Larson