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Crime Beat

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Crime Beat: Killing off the Alfa Spider

During the Kalk Bay Books launch of my novel Black Heart, Sarah Lotz raised the question of whether the main evil doer, Sheemina February, was bad or mad? Join the voyeurs’ club and drop in on an email conversation between her and crime novelist Chris Marnewick:

chris marnewickChris: Sarah, I think Ms February is not mad but bad. She’s not psychotic but psychopathic. Big difference. The psychotic is not in touch with reality. The psychopathic is, but doesn’t care about other people’s rights or feelings.

Ms February has all the attributes of the anti-social personality and the narcissistic personality. She had this perfect body – in her own eyes – and then Mace and Pylon came and maimed it. They struck at the core of her self-esteem, her perfect body. The hands are like the face and the eyes, a mirror of our soul, our language, our very being. The tool that distinguishes us from the lesser apes. And they hit her there. Every time she brushes her hair, puts her make-up on, makes a gesture to emphasise a point in speech, she is reminded of the disfigurement. Even on the toilet. Every time she changes gears, blows her nose, has to accept a note or parcel from someone, she is handicapped by her physical imperfection. And that contrasts starkly with the perfection – as she perceives it – of her mind and her personality.

What they have done to her is a crime the narcissist can never forget, never ignore and never forgive. The psychopathic streak in her lets her steam for years until she thinks she’s ready to take revenge.

Bad, not mad. Psychotics don’t take revenge. They strike randomly. Not Ms February.

sarah lotzSarah: Agreed, Chris, she is psychopathic (I don’t remember saying that she is a psychotic. I think I might have said she is a sociopath – high functioning and without empathy). And does this make me a bad person because I understood (and kind of applauded) her need for revenge?

The thing is: are you saying that this is an inherent personality trait (one that she has always had), or is she psychopathic because of circumstances? Personally, I think she was ‘born bad’ (and I think Mike kind of hints at this – the fact that she was a traitor after all), and the mutilation exacerbated this – like you’re saying. Can you ‘become’ psychopathic (nature versus nurture), or are you always born this way?

But isn’t this brilliant, we’re both talking about her as if she’s real!

Chris: Hi Sarah, sociopath is the same as psychopath, so you were right after all! You’re right about another thing: personality disorders manifest from a young age. So it’s nature, not nurture. Not entirely anyway. (This discussion could lead to the creation of some interesting characters in future. We must keep it up.)

I think she is a real person – surely Mike couldn’t make her up! – and she had the necessary traits to do bad things, but then Mace and Pylon pushed her over the edge.

I believe in revenge. I should take out a couple of baddies purely for revenge. And then my good guys are going to be bad guys too.

And double-damn Mr Nicol for killing off the Alfa Spider. That car had all the attributes and traits and eccentricities of a real one, and he’s gone and killed it too. Should be on the body count page.

Sarah: I’m afraid the Alfa had to die, Chris. No one would believe that it could have carried on for so long (especially not after its lengthy trip in Killer Country). Alfa Spiders are beautiful cars, but I believe they are engineered solely for balding men wearing leather gloves to drive slowly on Sundays. Use them everyday they’d last a week.

I’m always fascinated by the fact that there are so few female serial killers (of the sociopathic/psychotic type) in comparison to men. Most female mass killers seem to be motivated by money or greed or revenge (Eileen Wournos for example – and I am not convinced she was a psychopath). Or they are part of ‘killer couples’ (Rose West or Monique Olivier for example). Or maybe female serial killers are much better at not getting caught.

Sheemina is so alluring because she’s totally in control – a real wish-fulfillment character who believes she is pulling all the strings.

Chris: There are no female serial killers for two reasons, Sarah: they are too clever to get caught. And when they do get caught, everyone understands why they killed those awful men.

Second, serial killers kill for the sexual gratification. For women sex is not about gratification but about love. In the language of Mike’s novels: You (women) don’t get your rocks off by killing.


Sarah Lotz has written a number of novels, the legal thrillers, Exhibit A and Tooth and Nailed and most recently the horror novel, The Mall with Louis Greenberg, and the young adults zombie novel Deadlands with her daughter Savannah Lotz. Her first novel was Pompidou Posse.

Chris Marnewick is the author of the prize winning Shepherds & Butchers and last year’s The Soldier Who Said No. His next novel, A Sailor’s Honour, will be published later this year.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    June 28th, 2011 @23:55 #

    I see folk are raiding Sarah's Inbox again. This is dangerous territory. The above conversation would be disturbing if I hadn't just read an even crazier one between Sarah and Louis discussing rat eugenics and the advantages of parenting as a witch...

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    July 1st, 2011 @15:30 #

    Sarah does seem rather free and easy with her inbox, Helen. I'd better be more careful about what I say.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Mack</a>
    July 3rd, 2011 @17:35 #

    I've only read Payback but Killer Country is high on my to-read stack (thanks to Sarah). Aspects of Sheemina's character may emerge later that change my mind but right now, I disagree with Chris and call her mad rather than bad. If things had gone different in Lusaka I could see her as a partner with Mace and Pylon. I think what was done to her could drive anyone mad. Of course, we don't know if she is a reliable narrator. But, let's face it, Mace and Pylon are not nice guys regardless how much they love their families. Their indifference makes me think they are not without their own sociopathic tendencies.

    I can't speak to the demise of the Alpha Spider but I know Sarah and Chris have this deep attraction to fast autos so I extend my sympathy for their pain.


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