Posts Tagged ‘crime writing’

‘She’s nervous,’ whispered the former army interrogator into my ear. ‘Look at her body language:  scanning the room; seeking the reassurance of eye contact with people she knows; the nervous chatter… I guarantee that afterwards she won’t remember a single thing she has said.’

Talk about getting my money’s worth out of the Crime Pays session at the  Brisbane Writers Festival.

Like everyone else in the State Library auditorium, I was there for crime writing tips from international best-sellers Lisa Unger and Gregg Hurwitz. But I also had the added bonus of Brisbane-based thriller writer JJ Cooper in my right ear.

JJ spent seven  of his seventeen years with the Australian Army working in the Intelligence Corps, and has just released his first novel, aptly titled THE INTERROGATOR. It’s fiction, of course. It had to be, what with the Official Secrets Act and all… I’d like to say more, but if I do, I’ll have to kill you.

It would have been clever programming to have JJ up on the stage with Lisa Unger and Gregg Hurwitz. After all, Lisa did blurb JJ’s debut novel and even made a point of introducing him to the audience during Q&A.

I would have loved to have seen the panel Chair, Inga Simpson, short-listed for this year’s Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Emerging Author, bounce questions off a local thriller writer as well as the visiting big-guns.

Interrogating the Interrogator – now wouldn’t that have been something?

Detective Nick Fardoulys stared at the pretty feet; the immaculate toenails painted a light metallic brown.

His baby sister would have been able to identify the colour immediately from her once-unlimited palette of words. She had always insisted that only old farts like him wore brown; young pains-in-the-arse like her, apparently wore cappucino or pewter, mocha, chocolate and cream. Like life was a colour-coordinated coffee break.

The pretty feet wore oversize Haviana thongs and were hanging over the footrest of an old-style armchair. It reminded Nick of the Jason Recliner they’d given Pop, years ago, at his fiftieth birthday party at the Greek Club. The photo still sat on his desk: Pop stretched out in his best crimpilene trousers, a mustard shirt and yellow tie, grinning like a happy Labrador surrounded by his wife, four kids and a room full of rellies. Back when he still had four kids, a happy bark and nights skittered by for all of them in the unconscious pleasures of sleep.

But this was no Jason Recliner. It was an old lady’s chair, wilting under a weight of flowers in a faded chintz fabric that no self-respecting Jason would wear in a fit. It didn’t suit the owner of the metallic toenails either.

She was the full coordinated coffee break, right down to the funky nerd glasses and spiky hair full of product. She was built like a refrigerator with a well-stacked freezer that someone had tried to defrost with a knife. It was still jammed in there, the black handle jutting out from the swirling layers of a frothy silk blouse.

Fardoulys’s chest tightened as the familiar anger welled up.

The surprisingly delicate feet didn’t belong here. In haviana thongs. On a floral recliner, on a murdered woman. They should be strapped into frivolous sandals that drew the eye away from the too-thick waist, the too-careful grooming. They should be lining up for a weekly pedicure. Or kissing up to a pair of $600 Sioux shoes on some big-bellied barrister under the sedate white linen skirt of a table for two in a swanky restaurant like Alchemy or Montrachet.

Nick noted the absence of any conventional rings amongst the jangle of jewellery on the dead woman’s hands and made his vow to one more member of the lonely dead: I’m here for you. I’ll find whoever did this so that you can rest in peace.

He needed to believe that he had never broken that promise; that the short list of names headed by his own baby sister was merely waiting patiently for him to deliver.

copyright Christine Bongers 2009

[Editor's note: Henry Hoey Hobson is here to stay, but The Lonely Dead is barking its head off to be let back off the chain. ]

People will always look for a reason. Antecedents, the courts call it. Probative and prejudicial. For mitigation or explanation. It doesn’t matter to me.  I am what I am. A self-confessed cereal killer.

I make no excuses, so don’t try to blame it on a deprived childhood. Other people had what I had. A choice between Weet Bix and Vita Brits.

But they didn’t grow up to suffocate Rice Bubbles. Crush them into dust. Drown them to make mud. Then dispose of the evidence.

The early signs were all there. Like cruelty to dumb animals. Feeding my six brothers Froot Loops until they ricocheted off the fibro walls of our shack in the sticks.  It was a long way to town; a girl had to make her own fun.

The fire-starting, I date back to clearing brigalow in the seventies. We’d celebrate by throwing potatoes into the base of burning stumps. It trained me to rake through coals to retrieve food.  I do the same with my own kids. Tell ‘em it’s toasted meusli.

My mum would take out her angst on the porridge bowl. Gave it a damn good beating most mornings. Do the same thing myself. Intergenerational transmission of behaviour, the shrinks call it.

I call it the one clear warning you will get. Don’t mess with a perimenopausal writer before coffee. Ever.

Am I escalating? The evidence is mounting. Blackened saucepans litter the pots cupboard; unresponsive now to the once reviving power of boiling vinegar and baking powder.

The eleven-year-old has started cooking for herself and for her younger brother too. Each night, she sees the glaze film my eyes as I head on autopilot towards the kitchen. She intercepts me, steers me gently but firmly back to the keyboard.

She pats my hand. Her voice is soft in my ear. “It’s OK, Mum. It’s OK.”

[Editor's note: Christine Bongers needs to get back into writing her crime novel. It has been languishing at 43,000 words for too long.]

It is said that the jaws of writers run red from cannibalising the lives around them. Having supped, long and deep, on a vein of my own experience, I hunger for the smorgasbord offered by the lives of others.

Don’t worry, if you see me staring at you strangely, in a queue at the deli, or listening in on your chatter, from an adjoining table in the mall. I promise not to devour your life, not all of it anyway. I’ll just chew on tender morsels, savouring the tastes and textures of a life that is not my own.

You are safe out there in the messy space of reality. But don’t ever try to follow me home, into the realm of fiction, where story is king.

In my lair I suck secrets from marrow, pluck out hearts’ desires, stoke the blackest of fears. I will take that tender morsel that was once some part of you and make it forever mine. I might serve it up fresh and raw, or marinate it in creative juices, turning it constantly and slow-cooking it until so tender you won’t even notice the meat fall away from your bones…

So beware when you see me and others of my kind. When our eye falls on you, it will sear the flesh, sealing in juices and creating tender morsels on which others may feast.  Killer stories that make the juices flow.

[Editor's note: Christine Bongers is now officially back into writing her crime novel The Lonely Dead. If the school holidays had gone one day longer, her children may not have survived.]