FINDING NEW VOICES
DEFINING NEW GENRES
Inspiration? It’s criminal!
Writers are often advised to write what they know. This in itself could be a rather troubling piece of advice when you’re embarking on a novel about a remorseless, barbaric serial killer. But much of the world’s greatest fiction, particularly crime fiction, is driven by fact, and the real crimes perpetrated by others, the mysteries that haunt and challenge us. Perhaps that’s the thrill of crime fiction, the relationship with the darker side of the world.
My own fascination stems from earlier in my career when I was the crime reporter for the The Star newspaper in Johannesburg. In the mid-80s violent crime was rife in South Africa and there was no shortage of material to feed the imagination of a crime writer. Yet it wasn’t the more lurid or sensational aspects of the criminal act that fascinated me, but the forensic analysis – the careful accumulation and examination of even the most trivial of physical evidence to build, and ultimately solve, a case. You have to remember techniques and technology were far removed from the slick, almost mercurial, presentation of forensics we see now, particularly through popular shows such as CSI. You couldn’t perform a tissue analysis with a smartphone, or find DNA traces with a tablet. But this was the fascination for me, that a case could turn on tracing a partial fingerprint, discovering the relevance of an item of clothing, or matching ballistics to tie a weapon to the person who fired it.
There was one compelling mystery in particular that became the genesis for Blood of the Rose. The case? The Boksburg Suitcase Murder of the mid-late Sixties. A suitcase containing a middle-aged woman’s decapitated torso was fished from Boksburg Lake. Further badly decomposed body parts, including the unrecognisable head, were found in other suitcases. But the body could not be identified, even after pathologists worked with artists to painstakingly produce a likeness of the victim’s features. I won’t go into all the details here – they can easily be found on the internet – but it eventually took four years to formally identify the body as that of Catherine Burch. The final piece of proof? An expert in the police fingerprinting bureau found a fingerprint on a letter written by Catherine that matched those of her corpse.
As a journalist this case was vital in sparking my interest in forensics, and how the most trivial or innocuous of items can hold the key to unlocking a seemingly indecipherable mystery. Forensic investigation was progressing rapidly and more and more cases, like this one, were being solved thanks to the unique combination of progressive science and human ingenuity. Throw in a large dose of intuition and curiosity and any crime could be solved…eventually. I simply felt compelled to take my interest from the pages of the newspaper into a fictional world – a world where a faceless, remorseless and brutal killer is pursued doggedly by a police team using every clue, no matter how small, to try and break the case. But I didn’t leave any bodies in a suitcase. Or did I? You’ll have to read Blood of the Rose to discover that for yourself….