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And our sunshine noir author for May is … Paul Mendelson!

A new month calls for a new sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Paul Mendelson for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Paul Mendelson, author of Apostle Lodge. ©The Big Thrill.

 
Here’s what the two thriller aficionados chatted about:

Paul Mendelson is a man of many talents: writer, interviewer, actor, script-writer for theatre and television. He is also an expert on bridge and poker, and has written more than a dozen books as well as regular newspaper columns about them.

Mendelson is passionate about South Africa and he’s been visiting Cape Town for 25 years, so when he decided to write a crime fiction novel, he chose Cape Town as the setting.

“The cultural and political background of the country is fascinating for an author and, despite my characters seemingly facing increasing problems, I remain optimistic for South Africa…” he says.

His debut Vaughn de Vries thriller – The First Rule of Survival – was described by Lee Child as: “An excellent, uncompromising crime thriller made even better by its setting.” The First Rule of Survival was an immediate success and was shortlisted for the most prestigious U.K. crime fiction award. It was followed in 2015 by The Serpentine Road and The History of Blood in 2016.

Last year the fourth in the series, Apostle Lodge, came out. A group of boys discover the body of a woman who seems to have been abused and then starved to death in an empty house, Apostle Lodge. Because of the circumstances, Vaughn immediately suspects that it’s not a single crime but part of a series. He finds it hard to attract the focus the crime deserves because a terrorist bomb blast has recently shaken Cape Town and the police are hunting for the perpetrators. As the cases progress, Vaughn finds himself sucked personally into both of them.

If you think serial killer thrillers are formulaic, Apostle Lodge will change your mind. It’s a very different and intriguing take on the subgenre.

Vaughn de Vries’ motivation is justice for the victim. That doesn’t make him an unusual detective, but the fact that it’s his only focus does – he’s not even concerned with the pain of the victim’s family, only in what they can tell him to help him solve the case. Was this where you started with him as a character? Does the rest of his personality develop pretty well inevitably from there?

When I read crime literature, I really enjoy series of books. I find the re-appearance of characters I know reassuring, and the development of the major characters over a long period of time to be fulfilling, in the same way that friendship builds, and you learn more about the person you are fond of.

This is really how it has been with Vaughn de Vries. He is a man engulfed in turmoil yet, strangely, he is at peace with it. In The Serpentine Road, he tells his boss: “You know me, sir: death gets me up in the morning.” He’s only partly joking. He has had twenty years of fulfilling marriage, brought up two daughters, been a policeman in the traumatic death-throws of apartheid heralding the brighter but still troubled times of the new South African democracy and, now he has found what he lives for. Not stability, not sex or alcohol – for which he has barely controlled, unhealthy appetites – but justice for victims. In one way, he is entirely happy in his work; in another, the new world disorients and frustrates him. I think, as the second decade of the new millennium rolls on with the political interference and the all-consuming corruption of the Zuma regime, he has become ever more blinkered, still more focused on that which absorbs him – the pursuit of justice. He just wants to work and be left alone. Perhaps President Ramaphosa will support the SAPS better?

Apostle Lodge is a serial killer story, but it’s quite unlike others I’ve read in the genre. The focus is the damage not only to the murdered victims and the ones who escape, but also to the profilers and others tasked with dealing with such psychopaths on a regular basis. What interested you in this aspect?

I think it is easy to forget that for every attack, every murder we write about, there are victims beyond the character portrayed: their family and friends, the police officers who deal with the crime. I have spoken with homicide detectives both in South Africa and in the UK and it is clear to me that these people’s lives have been changed irrevocably, that their work affects every aspect of their lives: their relationships, their ability to sleep, to relax, to fantasize, to engage with others. I have scarcely met a police officer who does not rely on some form of drug, be it alcohol, nicotine, recreational drugs, or sex addiction to get through their relentless shifts.

So I wanted to be mindful of this aspect of such an investigation. I think if you focus too much upon grief it can become relentless and wearing for the reader, but to ignore it would be doing the often invisible characters who inevitably inhabit such situations an injustice.

Grace Bellingham, a psychological profiler, is worn out by her exposure to stalkers, rapists and killers. At the beginning of Apostle Lodge she opines that perhaps evil is nothing more than a minute distortion of the human brain. However, the actions of the perpetrators is undoubtedly evil and their remorselessness and pride in their actions must be incredibly shocking. To live and work in their world takes a toll none of us can truly appreciate.

Continue reading their conversation here.

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