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Kate Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

Embrace your love of things bloody

It’s blood and gore all round from July 31 to August 5, when Jenny Crwys-Williams hosts her second annual Bloody Book Week at venues around Joburg. She is bringing us some absolute superstars. It’s enough to make your spine tingle agreeably just reading their names – Jeffery Deaver, John Connolly, Mark Giminez.

Add to that our own fabulous crew of crime writers – Andrew Brown, Jassy Mackenzie, Mike Nicol and more. It’s a stellar cast of bloody-minded writers and you have plenty of opportunities to meet them, from glam dinners and lunches, to free bookstore appearances. There’s even a dress-up event – go as Bubbles Schroeder or Brett Kebble, and meet Rahla Xenopolous and Mandy Weiner, the authors who wrote about these real South African murders.

If you’d like to try your hand at creating characters and then bumping them off in nasty ways, there’s a murder writing masterclass with the authors, so you can pick up some of the secrets of the genre.

Aspiring writers can also take note of Ronald A Knox’s “10 Commandments of Detective Fiction”. Knox was a mystery writer, satirist and Catholic priest of the early 20th century. The combination of these interests led him, one might imagine inevitably, to create the strange and prescriptive set of rules as follows:

1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Really, one can’t help but envy a man and an era that allows for such certainty. Many of these commandments have, of course, been obliterated in our own rule-averse era. Number 2 has certainly vanished in a puff of smoke. Number 5 is inexplicable and undoubtedly racist. I’m with him on number 3 – restraint must certainly be exercised when it comes to secret rooms and passages. And number 10 stands for all eternity, in my view. “But, yes, it was his twin!” ranks second only to “But it had all been a dream.” on my Dallas List – words you should never ever use in a book or screenplay.

Embrace your love of all things bloody. “If you meet a man who boasts that he does not think [detective stories] interesting, you will nearly always find that he indulges in some lower form of compensation – probably he is a crossword addict,” wrote Knox.

Put down that crossword or its nefarious new-fangled cousin, Sudoku, and go to for the programme and bookings. See you there.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist

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Real life drama

What is your first thought when you narrowly escape prison? Or are released from captivity? Or contract a rare disease? When tragedy strikes, and you are struggling with unbearable sadness and loss, what do you do? Negotiate a book deal, of course. And be quick about it. Real life drama is a popular genre, and real life crime in particular.

John Kercher, the British man whose daughter, Meredith, was murdered in Italy in 2007, has a book coming out this month. Meredith: Our Daughter’s Murder and the Heartbreaking Quest for the Truth is apparently a father’s story of loss and the quest for justice for his daughter whose death was overshadowed by legal craziness.

John Kercher is not the only author of Meredith’s story. In the other corner, Amanda Knox – Kercher’s American roommate who stood trial for her murder, was convicted, and then exonerated – is working on her own book about her experiences and her side of the story. HarperCollins apparently coughed up $4 million for it.

I hardly need mention, but just in case you didn’t think of it yourself, let it be known that Raffaele Sollecito, Knox’s Italian ex, who was also convicted and then released has – yup, you guessed it – a book coming out too. Before that particular bandwagon leaves town, at least 8 other books have been written by authors and journalists, judging by a cursory glance at Google. The public just can’t seem to get enough of this tragic story, so it’s likely that at least some of these will be money-spinners.

Another real-life crime that generated a zillion articles and a number of books, was the disappearance of little Madeline McCann. The book Madeleine, was written by the child’s mother, Kate McCann, to raise funds for the search for her daughter, and to help keep her story and her face in the public domain so that she would be found. An understandable motivation. Can’t say the same for the detective who was booted off the case in Portugal. According to the UK’s Daily Record, his book The Truth About The Lie was a bestseller in his home country. All in all he’s estimated to have made about a million pounds from the book, a dvd and other information and claims about the little girl’s death and the subsequent investigation. And they say police work is not well rewarded.

I’m not questioning the sincerity of Kercher’s heartbreak, or his need to write about his experiences. In the absolute circus that this trial turned into, it’s no wonder that the participants felt a compelling desire to have their own sides of the story heard. I’m sure the same is true of many of the writers who were thrust into the limelight in appalling circumstances, and want to tell their stories. But there is often something rather distasteful about the rush to print to fill the public’s thirst for information on this and other high-profile cases, and the chunks of dough being generated by some of the spillers of the beans.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Books Columnist

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Murder Most Fab

The ever-resourceful and energetic Jenny Crwys-Williams has announced that she’s putting together a book festival for crime writing. The (brilliantly-named) Bloody Book Week will run from 25 – 31 July in Joburg. Yes, Franschhoek gets the book festival with delicate morsels of divine food and long evenings in conversation with the urbane literary types like Justin Cartwright; Jozi gets the crime book festival with the fast paced thrillers, dishy detectives, bloody fingerprints and grouchy forensic pathologists. That figures.

The Bloody Book Week will consist or multiple events be hosted at various venues around the city. Booksellers, publishers and book salons will be getting involved with their own events and talks. There are promises of all sorts of treats – word is that Mandy Weiner will be in conversation with Glen Agliotti. Oh yes please, count me in. There’s a murder weekend with forensic pathologist David Klatzow, where guest will see if all that crime reading has paid off, when they have to solve a fiendishly intricate crime.

Crime writing is a super-fast growing sector of the publishing industry and South Africa is right on-trend. We just love our local crime stories, whether they be real (David Klatzow, Mandy Weiner, Anthony Altbeker) or fictional (Deon Meyer, Jassy Mackenzie, Mike Nicol and many more). You’d think, given the murder and mayhem so present in our real lives, we’d yearn for stories of flower-arrangers in Cornwall, or painting restorers in Venice, or minor family dramas in Connecticut. But no, apparently Joburgers long to read about … you guessed it … murder and mayhem. Perhaps we respond to the fact that although there is usually a degree of moral ambiguity, in these books crimes are solved and the stories so often end with some sort of justice, rough or otherwise.

On the subject of crime fiction, Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association recently released their survey of the country’s crime fiction. You’ll be intrigued to know that the average body count in crime novels over the last year was 8.38. The highest body count in a single book was a bloodthirsty 150 victims. The victims did not go gently into that good night. Oh, no. The survey tells us they met all manner of horrible and outlandish ends. Sliced up in an olive machine. Taxidermied alive. Squashed by a euphonium (a brass wind instrument, rather like a large trumpet, in case you’re wondering). Poisoned by Ribena and soluble asprin. Gored on the horns of a goat. And so on.

More details of Jenny’s Bloody Book Week as they come to hand, but you can be assured that whether your bent is towards cozy English detectives, psycho thrillers, police procedural, legal eagles or real life investigation, you’re bound to find something to tickle your fancy or send shivers down your spine.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times’ books columnist

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