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Our sunshine noir author for November is ... Martin Steyn

A new month calls for a new local thriller author sending shivers down reader’s across the continent’s spine…

Michael Sears, co-author of the perennially popular Detective Kubu-series recently conducted an interview with author Martin Steyn for The Big Thrill.

Here’s what the two sunshine noir aficionados chatted about…

Martin Steyn got into writing because of Stephen King’s The Dark Half, and then into writing crime fiction because he was fascinated by what motivated serial killers to hunt strangers for pleasure and how they did it. He began by reading books on the subject, while scanning the local paper for reports on a serial killer dumping the bodies of young boys in the dunes not far from where he lived.

Martin studied psychology and criminology at the University of South Africa. After that he studied serial killers and profiling in earnest, following it up with research into the investigation of violent crime in South Africa.

In 2014 Martin’s first crime novel set in Cape Town, Donker Spoor, was published in Afrikaans and the following year it was awarded an important prize for South African suspense fiction. Earlier this year the English version, Dark Traces, came out in South Africa, and it has just been released in the US.

Martin places a premium on realism, and it shows in the book. But his character study of his protagonist, Jan Magson, and the people caught up in the killer’s wake are riveting.

Authors are often asked where they get their ideas. You mentioned that the idea for the murderer in Dark Traces came from reading true crime. Would you tell us a bit more about that, and how you base your work on real cases?

I prefer reading true crime to crime fiction, although when it comes to writing, it’s the other way around – this might be a Gemini thing. So I read a lot of true crime, particularly about serial killers and profiling, and I came across an article about a serial killer who really piqued my interest. I don’t want to name him, since it could be a spoiler, but I got the book written about the case and the more I read about it, the more I just thought I had to use this for a story. So I took his personality and psychology as a base, built it up with research into sexual sadism, added some quirks like the hangings, and that became my killer. In terms of the story, there are a few elements from the actual case, but I used it mostly for character creation.

Probably due to my love of true crime, I’m very much into realistic crime fiction. When I started writing crime, I wanted to write about killers like the ones I read about, like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Andrei Chikatilo, and Moses Sithole and the Station Strangler here in South Africa, rather than the fictional versions who often bear very little resemblance to reality. Hannibal Lecter is a wonderful character, but Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) is much closer to the real thing. I’m interested in the latter, so that is where I look for inspiration when it comes to building a character. Sometimes it’s an actual killer, as in Dark Traces, sometimes it’s created from the characteristics of a certain type of killer based on research. I’m quite fond of the work of the ex-FBI profilers like John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Roy Hazelwood, and rely on that a lot.

I do look to real cases for inspiration. My third novel (I write in Afrikaans first) deals with a kind of crime – a woman held captive indefinitely – rather than a specific case. And the one I’m working on now was inspired by an actual case in Cape Town, although the story, characters, and motivation are very different. So it’s not so much “base on” as exploit as a starting point or a character or a kind of crime. But after that I want the story and characters to have the freedom to develop in whichever way they go. I don’t want to be bound by the events of the actual case.

The serial killer is obviously central to the books. How far do you think a writer is able to understand the mind of a psychopath? How hard should we try?

I don’t know if you can ever completely understand that utter lack of empathy. But if you want to write about psychopaths in a convincing manner, then you have to put in the effort. Research is key, both books like Without Conscience by Robert Hare, who has spent almost his entire adult life studying psychopaths, and biographies about men like Ted Bundy. Scanning the entry in Wikipedia isn’t really going to get you there. You have to immerse yourself, because there is a huge difference between knowing the characteristics of psychopaths and understanding how they act and react (or often fail to react).

Continue reading here.

PS – Read J.H. Bográn’s recent feature interview with Michael Stanley here.

Dark Traces

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And our sunshine noir author for October is ... Paul E. Hardisty

A new months calls for a new sunshine noir 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 Hardisty for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Here’s what Michael and Paul chatted about:

A Canadian by birth and now the CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science based in Queensland, Paul Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist, and environmental scientist. He has rough-necked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, and rehabilitated village water wells in the wilds of Africa. He survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a in 1993, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war.

Yemen was the setting for Hardisty’s powerful debut thriller, The Abrupt Physics of Dying, which was short-listed for the Crime Writers Association Creasy New Blood Dagger award – the premiere British award for first novels in the mystery/thriller genre. It was followed by The Evolution of Fear last year.

Paul’s protagonist, Claymore Straker, is a South African who went through the mill of the Angola war and was badly chewed up in it. In Reconciliation for the Dead we find out what really happened to him then and why. It’s Clay’s backstory.

How much of that story have you always known, and how much have you developed in the writing of this book?

I have been thinking about and working on the plot and character elements of this series for the last 15 years. Clay’s experiences as a young man growing up in South Africa during apartheid were always going to be the essential backstory for the books, and I had a number of pretty specific events from his past fixed quite early. These appear as fragments of flashbacks and recollections in the first two books, which are set 13-plus years later, after Clay has been dishonorably discharged and exiled from SA.

In the third book, Reconciliation for the Dead, Clay goes back to South Africa to testify to Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), seeking amnesty for the terrible things he did during the war. His testimony provides the vehicle for us to go back to 1981, and explore Clay’s past in detail. It explains why Clay is the distant, emotionally closed, damaged man we meet first in The Abrupt Physics of Dying. The progression has been a natural one, I think, and has built suspense. So when you finally find out just what happened back then that was so bad, I hope it pretty much blows you away.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission meeting

Much of the book takes place when he is 21, fighting in the undeclared war in Angola on the side of the South African army. The theme of the book is largely his personal disillusionment with the defense of white South Africa as he learns about the abhorrent things that it’s doing. Yet he finds himself unable to join the other side, whatever his sympathies. Is this unresolved internal tension at the heart of the character we see in the books that are set later?

Absolutely. The man we meet in the first two books is simply unable to forgive himself for what he has done. It forces him, eventually, back to testify to the TRC, in an attempt to win amnesty, but mostly to find some kind of absolution. Throughout this, Rania, the other main character, is trying to help him understand that forgiveness is possible, and that most importantly, he must learn to forgive himself.

Most of the book takes place in South Africa and Angola. How did you develop the background knowledge to set a book in two countries you don’t know well?

Actually, I have worked extensively across Africa over the last 30 years. I was married in West Africa in the 1980s, was in Ethiopia in the early ’90s as the Mengistu regime fell, and have traveled extensively across Southern Africa. So I know some of the continent pretty well, and obviously, tried to set as many of the scenes as I could in places I know. I have supplemented that with extensive research on the period (1980-82), and mention a couple of key sources in the back of the book. I also consulted with friends who were there at the time.

Continue reading their conversation here.
Book details

The Abrupt Physics of Dying

  • The Abrupt Physics of Dying: One Man. An Oil Company. A Decision That Could Cost His Life by Paul E. Hardisty
    EAN: 9781910633052
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

The Evolution of Fear

Reconciliation for the Dead

Book bites: 20 August 2017

Published in the Sunday Times

The Wandering EarthThe Wandering Earth
Cixin Liu, Head of Zeus
Book fiend
This collection of award-winning sci-fi short stories explores human desire, distant galaxies and potential futures. The titular story’s grand premise is that the Earth’s rotation must stop and its orbit move away from the sun. In “For the Benefit of Mankind” an assassin is hired to kill specific targets before approaching aliens take over the Earth. The power of “The Wandering Earth“ lies not just in Liu’s scientific flights of fancy but his ability to get to the heart of the human condition. These are magnificent tales of people in love in the face of galactic doom. The stories will satisfy space geeks and sci-fi junkies yet are just as accessible to dreamers. – Efemia Chela @efemiachela

See What I Have DoneSee What I Have Done
Sarah Schmidt, Headline
Book thrill
Long before OJ Simpson, Amanda Knox and Oscar Pistorius, the murder that garnered massive public interest was in 1892 when Andrew and Abby Borden were brutally killed with an axe in their Massachusetts home. Lizzie Borden, their daughter, was arrested and found innocent. It’s a story that’s been told in rhymes, movies, books and songs. This is Sarah Schmidt’s chance and she wins. This is a psychological thriller about the family dynamics told from key role-players’ points of view. It’s an emotional journey that shows there was a crisis, even before that fateful day. – Jessica Levitt @jesslevitt

The Reason You're AliveThe Reason You’re Alive
Matthew Quick, Pan Macmillan
Book hug
Sixty-eight-year-old Vietnam vet David Granger is a layered man. Irascible, unlikable – he seems like an alt-right dream. One who loves guns and hates everything and everyone. But as he tells his life story and reveals his true character and the daily battles of living with post-traumatic stress syndrome, the reader cannot help but sympathise and like the old man. Quick has written another bestseller filled with characters so compelling and American, you can hear Robert de Niro talking. – Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

Hitmen for Hire takes the reader into a world of hammermen, informers, rogue policeman, gang leaders and crooked businessmen

Hitmen for Hire
When you next sit down at your local coffee shop, look around you: there may just be a professional hitman sitting at the next table. As author Mark Shaw reveals in this highly original and informative book, the ‘upper world’ sails perilously close to the underworld.

Hitmen for Hire takes the reader on a journey like no other, navigating a world of hammermen (hitmen), informers, rogue policemen, taxi bosses, gang leaders and crooked businessmen. The book examines a system in which contract killings have become the norm, looking at who arranges hits, where to find a hitman, and even what it is like to be a hitman – or woman.

Since 1994, South Africa has witnessed some spectacular underworld killings associated with various industries and sectors. Drawing on over a thousand cases, from 2000 to 2016, Shaw reveals how these murders have an outsized impact on the evolution of both legal and illegal economic activity.

Mark Shaw is director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime and senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s International Drug Policy Project. He was until recently National Research Foundation Professor of Justice and Security at the Centre of Criminology, University of Cape Town, where he is now an adjunct professor.

“Gripping, a must-read. This work is of immense value.”
– Vusi Pikoli, former head of the National Prosecuting Authority

“This is an extraordinary, enthralling read. With his unique insight, Mark Shaw has thrown a spotlight onto the underworld, exposing the commercialisation of murder in South Africa. I have interviewed a fair number of hitmen as a journalist, but this book still shocked me from cover to cover.”
- Mandy Weiner, author of Killing Kebble

“Mark Shaw takes a subject usually confined to the pages of pulp fiction and turns it into the stuff of serious analysis on the place that assassinations occupy in South Africa’s political, economic and social life.”
- Jonny Steinberg, author of A Man of Good Hope

Book details

"Hendrik weet hy het nie die seun geskiet nie, maar hoe bewys hy dit?" Heiliger is ’n aangrypende regsdrama deur Dibi Breytenbach

Hendrik skiet uiteindelik ’n sluwe rondloperhond. Die eerste koeël mis rakelings, maar die tweede is sekuur. Nou is die oud-soldaat in ’n goeie bui. Dit is byna Kersfees en dinge tussen hom en Amalia wil-wil lyk of dit kan uitwerk.

Toe gebeur dit: Die plaaslike speurder, Buthelezi, daag op en slaan Hendrik in boeie. Die klag? Sy buurman se seun is dood en daardie opslagkoeël word verdink.

Dadelik word hierdie insident ’n rasse-voorval, want die seun is swart. Die gemeenskap is woedend en die onbevoegde blanke speurder wil wys dat hy nie ’n wit man sal laat wegkom met moord nie.

Hendrik weet hy het die seun nie geskiet nie, maar hoe bewys hy dit?

Die teks is briljant, want so gereeld gebeur dit dat stinkryk mense wegstap van ’n moordsaak op grond van tegniese punte. Die publiek voel dan verraai. Nou gooi Breytenbach die leser in die diepkant in, want ons het simpatie met Hendrik, maar die redes waarom die reg nou skynbaar onreg pleeg teenoor hom, is presies dieselfde wat ons as gewone sterflinge vra wanneer tegniese detail in hofsake ter sprake kom.

Saam met Hendrik beleef ons magteloosheid in die stinkende tronk- en hofselle terwyl die regslui en die polisie kibbel.

Breytenbach is ’n regsgeleerde en met hierdie boek sleep sy die leser saam met haar. Dit is ’n naelbyter, want natuurlik wil almal weet hoe die seun gesterf het. Gaan Hendrik oud word in die tronk?

Stukkie vir stukkie word die gebeure aanmekaar gelas en die reg se tentakels word beleef soos nog nooit te vore in Afrikaans nie.

Dibi Breytenbach se eerste twee boeke was goed. Hierdie een plaas haar onder die voorste krimiskrywers in ons land. Heiliger sal ewe goed verstaan word in plekke soos die VSA waar die onreg van die regsproses dikwels afhang van ’n mens se geld, aldan nie.


Jassy Mackenzie: our July sunshine noir author

A new month calls for a new local thriller author sending shivers down readers across the continent’s spine.

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Jassy Mackenzie for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers. Jassy was born in Zimbabwe, but currently resides on a small farm near Johannesburg.

She exchanged romance novels for noir, and has written four successful novels featuring her P.I. Jade de Jong. Her fifth book in the series, Bad Seeds, was recently published.

Here, Michael and Jassy discuss her attraction to mysteries and her new book. Intrigued? Read on…

Over the last several years you’ve been writing romances. Why did you decide to take a break from thrillers and what drew you back?

While I was writing Pale Horses, my mother became ill and passed away – it was a very sad time for the family and I decided I needed to do something different to cheer myself up. So I wrote a humorous erotic romance, Folly, which became a bestseller in South Africa, and I followed it up with a few others. I didn’t plan on leaving it too long before returning to the thrillers, especially since I had some readers contacting me to ask when I was going to stop writing these silly romances and get back to proper storytelling! Bad Seeds took longer than anticipated to write, firstly because life got in the way, and secondly because I didn’t feel the plot was pulling together believably enough, so I left the story for a while. In fact, the delay was a good thing because when I came back to the book and did further research, I discovered a recently published news report on Pelindaba that provided astonishing new information, and the perfect solution to my plotting dilemma.

In Bad Seeds, Jade is faced with a plot to steal weapons-grade uranium from a nuclear research center near Johannesburg. To non-South African readers that may sound far fetched, but there is just such a research center here, South Africa did build nuclear weapons in the apartheid days, and the material is still in South Africa. The plot is completely believable, and, although you changed the name of the research center, the background is real. How much of the plot is based on fact, and how much is pure invention?

Pelindaba has a fascinating, if rather dark, history – and a surprising number of the facts about my fictitious nuclear research center, Inkomfe, are based on factual news reports about Pelindaba. The plight of the apartheid-era workers who fell ill from radiation-related causes is documented in a number of articles – the best one titled “Apartheid’s Nuclear Shame”. The report which ended up being the game-changer that allowed me to finish the book, was about the nuclear ingots. Yes, there really is a stash of highly enriched uranium ingots at Pelindaba from the dismantled weapons. Yes, the U.S. is extremely concerned about it. Yes, if they were stolen, these ingots could be used by terrorists because there’s enough material to create half a dozen mega-bombs. And yes – there have been attempted raids on the research center, some of which have come very close to succeeding.

To complicate things, Jade finds herself in a serious conflict of interest between her client – Ryan Gillespie, head of security at the plant – and her mark – Carlos Botha, a consultant who has been behaving suspiciously. Then she gets emotionally involved, which makes it worse. The two men keep her guessing. You once called Jade “immoral,” but she does seem to try to do the right thing when the chips are down. Is that how you see her?

Yes, Jade always tries hard to do the right thing, although it’s her version of it, rather than society’s version, or the law’s version. Deep down, I think most of us would love to be renegades from time to time, especially when we see a situation we perceive as being unfair. Sometimes the law doesn’t resolve injustices the way it should, and we dream of being able to intervene and set things right … Jade gets to actually do it.

Continue reading their interview here.

Bad Seeds

Book details