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Crime Beat

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A taste of what’s to come : extracts from Bad Company

Bad CompanyThere are seventeen writers in the krimi anthology Bad Company. Here are the biogs, comments on crime writing and opening paragraphs from nine of them, selected alphabetically. It’s enough to make you want the book immediately. The remaining eight will be highlighted next Monday.

Andrew Brown works as an advocate in the Cape High Court and is a reservist on the South African police force, as well as being a family man, and writer with the prestigious Sunday Times Fiction Award to his credit for crime-thriller Coldsleep Lullaby (2006). Street Blues: the experiences of a reluctant policeman (2008) is Brown’s non-fiction account of his nights on duty as a police reservist. He describes his decision to join the reservists as both an act of commitment to transforming South Africa and a cathartic move to quell his own demons. Active duty has taken him from the tree-lined avenues of Rosebank to the squalor of Joe Slovo squatter camp in Langa, all the time gaining invaluable insight into crime, as well as first-hand experience with transgressors and the police who pursue them.

On writing crime fiction, Brown says, “The writer can explore his or her own fantasies, the darkest sides of human behaviour, without fear of sanction. Although predominantly plot-driven, the genre provides opportunities to develop interesting – and sometimes bizarre – characters, and to explore intense inter-personal relationships.” As he does in ‘Occam’s Razor’.

Occam’s Razor

“How would you commit the perfect murder, doctor?”

The question might have seemed mischievous in another setting, but the accompanying cold stare established the solemnity of the speaker. Detective Inspector Daniel Mentor had a grizzled, irritable manner about him, constantly flicking ash off the burning end of his cigarette, perpetually ensuring that only the glowing ember showed. Flakes of ash collected in the folds and cracks of his faded jacket, staining the leather like mould. His chunky fingers rolled the cheap ballpoint pen back and forth across his palm. His voice was rough and guttural, and the stark linoleum floor and bare walls made the cold room echo slightly as he spoke. Outside the wind swirled and pushed against the windows.

Peter Church typed his first novelette on his mother’s Royal typewriter at age eleven. He took a breather from a two-decade-long career in Information Technology to write his first novel, Dark Video (2008) and is currently working on the sequel, ‘Take 2’.

Of thrillers, he says: “I love the balance and timing of a thriller – the build-ups, the let-downs, the counter thrusts, shocks, surprises and revelations. It’s like having your foot on the pedal of a fast car. I want the reader to escape from their everyday into my world.”

Which is exactly what Church achieves in his short story, ‘The One’.

And Church, who lives in Cape Town, with his wife and three children, likes to slip a little technology into his writing. “Internet, cams, cell phones and iPods are intriguing tools to dabble with.”

And what’s all this about Goldfish? “My son bought the CD. He slipped it into my shuttle and now he can’t get it back. Ooh ah woo ah ooh-ooh-ooh. Hypnotic, it’s music to get calm to …”

The One

I received four digital photographs the day i arrived home from a week in Greece.

My holiday was over, money spent, no photographs to preserve moments, no memories deemed worthy.

Now someone was sending me pictures from their holiday.

Taken on my camera!

I stroked the mouse across its pad, recognised the location of the third image: Beacon Island, Plettenberg Bay. Shot into the sun, the panorama spanned from the beach to a corner surf break, the silver light, the unbroken sand, a reliable timestamp of morning.

David Dison is best known as a specialist defamation and media lawyer, and co-founder of theWeekly Mail. He fought numerous anti-censorship cases and, throughout the eighties, he represented hundreds of detainees and trialists, most prominently in the Delmas Treason Trial. Author of numerous papers and articles on media and civil rights law, he currently holds the position of MD of Media and Broadcasting Consultants (Pty) Ltd.

His acclaimed first novel, Death in the New Republic (2007), features the tormented investigator Nossel, who dashes around Joburg on a murder case, continually fascinated by its dual nature.

“My character, Nossel, is able to delve into the inner workings of the criminal justice system in a way that I hope exposes the reader to the workings of our strange and exciting society, and its people. I’ve been a fan of detective fiction since my teens. And the genre is growing on my wife, my muse and first editor.”

Nossel will be back in the sequel, ‘The Good Nigerian’, and features here in ‘Louis Botha Avenue’, set against a backdrop of South Africa’s recent turmoil of xenophobia.

Louis Botha Avenue

Nossel emerged contented from the convenience store at the BP garage in Orange Grove. His solitary coffee date with the weekly pulp media had preserved his sanity for years, and it had not failed him today. There was no need to pull up his collar as the Highveld sun had already broken the midwinter chill. He sloped across the forecourt towards his waiting Defender.

Tracey Farren is a full-time writer with a psychology honours degree and some years of experience as a freelance journalist. With a forte for delving into disturbing issues, she says, “I found myself haunted by the human drama that I witnessed. The newspaper reports could not accommodate the texture and charge of these stories, so I turned to fiction to express the emotional reality of some of these themes.”

Farren had several hard-hitting short stories published before turning her hand to her first novel, Whiplash, a gritty narrative about a street prostitute who launches into a dangerous battle to turn her life around. Apart from raising two teenagers, and surfing the waves on weekends in Cape Town, she’s in the process of writing a second novel, a psychological thriller titled ‘Snake in the Grass’.

Read on for Farren’s deliciously gut-wrenching tale, ‘Chop Shop’.

Chop Shop

Jock and Randall smoke outside the door. Randall tells Jock about the new Toyota. I listen while I’m falling sleep. “I punched the kid’s mother out of the seat. I put the gun on the kid in the back and said, ‘Get out!’ She tried but the fuckin’ child lock was on. This black guy started shooting for my fuckin’ head. I whacked it into reverse. Sorry about the back bumper. Man, I belted down the N1 at two-forty.”

Joanne Hichens [has] degrees in art and psychology [and has ] worked as a lecturer, an art director, a book illustrator, and a co-coordinator of an eating disorders unit at a psychiatric hospital, before completing a Masters degree in creative writing at the University of Cape Town. During a stint working as part of a City Improvement District team, she gained valuable insight into issues around “crime and grime”.

This varied experience, plus being widely travelled, informed her writing of Out To Score (co-authored with Mike Nicol, 2006), youth-novel Stained (2008), and various articles and stories for newspapers, magazines, and anthologies.

“Crime-thrillers bring the cruel and the tragic to our attention, and underscore the absurd and fragile nature of life. I’m of the opinion that crime-thriller writing can be as open-ended as real life is; sometimes there are loose ends, an ‘unorderliness’ exists which can be shown through the writing. I tend to prefer writing the bad guys, which comes easier to me if they’re verging on the psychopathic, or are at least somewhat over the top – as are the characters in my story ‘Sweet Life’.”

Sweet Life
The way Mabel Martin thought of herself was invisible. like the wind maybe. That’s right, like the southeaster, the Cape Doctor. People put up with it: it had its uses, it blew away the pollution. But beyond that, people’d rather it didn’t blow, and were glad when it was gone.

Mabel took the service lift – never the glass-fronted lift with the lights all the way around – and slowly, painstakingly, started the clean-up routine. Her job for the past three years at the Cape Grande Hotel was to make the beds, scrub the toilets ’til the bowls shone. Flush the vomit, scoop up used condoms, pull matted hair from blocked drains. She made the ugliness of hard, rich living disappear.

Dirk Jordaan is a journalist at the Afrikaans daily paper Beeld in Johannesburg. Apart from editing, he also writes about motorcycles. His debut novel,
Die Jakkalssomer(Summer of the Jackal) (2007) features Captain Div Pelser, who works with a unit of the National Prosecuting Authority. The novel was shortlisted for the magazine Insig’s fiction award for 2007 and was a finalist in the language and cultural organisation ATKV’s annual Quill Awards for 2007 in the category Suspense Fiction.

“To me,” Jordaan says, “it was a natural development to start writing crime-thriller fiction, as I constantly imagine plots and especially action sequences. It’s my way of escaping reality! But crime fiction also gives me the opportunity to investigate moral issues and our innate longing for balance in our lives and surroundings.” With a growing readership, the Afrikaans ‘crime-thriller’ has now definitely come of age.
His story ‘Masterclass’, is another take on the “perfect crime”. After all, isn’t this what every killer hopes for? To get away with it?


The rolled-up newspaper hit the front door with the sound of a far-away, muffled gunshot.

Duncan Penwright opened the campus cottage door and, as dictated by a thousand other mornings, retrieved the paper – to be gutted and spread on the kitchen table. He sat down with a full coffee mug and lit his first cigarette of the new day. It was still quiet outside, the pale frost-covered lawns not yet disturbed by the shoes of students rushing to their first classes, and making it just in time. Somewhere beyond the old buildings and bare jacaranda trees, the capital was stirring, shaking off the grey winter dawn.

Richard Kunzmann is the author of three highly acclaimed police thrillers set in South Africa. His first novel Bloody Harvests (2006), was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association’s J.C.W. Creasy Award for Best New Novel. Publication of Salamander Cotton and Dead-End Road followed soon afterward.

Born in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1976, he moved to South Africa with his family just in time for colour television. Asked why he writes crime, he says, “Any good story is about human extremes, which normally also involves some sort of criminal behaviour. I’ve been watching gangster movies since I was old enough to sneak out of my bedroom at night and switch on the TV. Writing thrilling stories was a natural progression and, besides, it keeps me out of trouble.”

Not only is his story ‘If Nothing Else’ riveting as part examination of violence, part parody of crime writing, but he uses his experience and knowledge in the field of psychology to its best advantage to pack his work with authentic detail.

If Nothing Else

It was a desperate death to look at: living room bric-a-brac strewn about, muddy handprints tracked across the walls, an elderly woman lying spreadeagled and face down on the carpet. A leg was stuck up at an odd angle against the footstool of a massage chair, you know, the ones that telesales companies only ever sell to lonely widows.

Jassy Mackenzie [was] born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), the second youngest of five daughters, moved with her family to South Africa when she was eight years old. Books and reading were considered so important that television was banned from the house.

She lives in Kyalami, a suburb of Johannesburg, with her partner, plus two horses and two cats, and admits to getting a rush from living in Joburg, where high levels of crime, although frightening, provide a fertile field of inspiration for an up-and-coming thriller writer. Mackenzie is currently editor of HJ, a hair and beauty magazine, with an acclaimed first novel, Random Violence (2008), to her credit.

Self-confessed thriller and mystery addict, she says, “Reading crime fiction is an adrenaline rush. It allows you to be the detective, to try and guess the identity of the killer and anticipate the twists in the plot. Writing crime fiction is as much fun as reading it – except it takes longer.”
The prose style of crime-thrillers is often crisp, the pace racy, as in Jassy Mackenzie’s ‘The Beginning’.

The Beginning

Kate ran up the winding path that led away from town. the ground was stony and hard, made treacherous by swathes of loose gravel, dotted with tall clumps of veld grass and the occasional shrub.

Her hair, wet with sweat, was bunched up under a baseball cap. A kitbag bounced on her shoulder blades, the friction creating another pool of sweat in the small of her back.

She ran alone. It was two o’clock on a cloudless Sunday afternoon. Yesterday, temperatures had peaked at forty degrees. Today felt even hotter. People with any sense were indoors, their fans powered up to maximum, enduring the sweltering heat as they waited for the afternoon to cool into evening.

Tim Keegan a Capetonian by birth and by inclination, started his working life as an academic historian with a PhD from the University of London. After spending some time in Britain and the United States, he returned to South Africa in the 1980s. He left academic life in his forties to turn his attention to writing full-time. Apart from several books of history, he has published three novels, Waiting for the Moon (2005), Tromp’s Last Stand (2007), and My Life with the Duvals (2008).

“I do not regard myself as primarily a crime writer,” Keegan admits, “but I consider foibles and weaknesses as central to the human condition, and criminality as an ideal vehicle for examining human life in extremis.”

Keegan’s detective novel Tromp’s Last Stand is a rollicking romp with security-professional Jake Tromp through the city streets of Cape Town, but in ‘What Molly Knew’ Keegan uses the measured prose for which he is best known. Here he focuses on an act of violence as a way of prising open the dynamics of a tragic family.

What Molly Knew

At first Molly Retief didn’t know who it was on the other end of the phone. Tommie had never phoned her before, as far as she could remember. He sounded agitated, his voice shaking. Sarah’s dead, he said. What do you mean, Sarah’s dead? It can’t be. But it was. Molly had never hidden the fact that she didn’t like her son-in-law. She blamed him for everything that had gone wrong in her family. She liked to think they’d all been happy before he came along.



Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    March 2nd, 2009 @16:47 #

    A postfull of very enticing first paragraphs.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Joanne</a>
    March 4th, 2009 @13:58 #

    And next week there'll be more!
    The Cape Town launch is set for the 20th of March, so looking forward to that, but more details later.


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