“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper
unfolds world after world after world …”
This room is my favourite. I love all my stories, new and old, good and bad, long and short, but there is just something about a novel, a story exceeding a hundred thousand words, where you get to know the characters intimately, where you get lost in the world.
In the late 90s there was this police show, Homicide, Life on the Street, about the detectives of the Homicide Unit in Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States. I never missed an episode and it had a significant influence on me when I started thinking about writing crime. Rather than tying myself to a single series character, I wanted to work with a group of characters. When I began my research into the South African situation, I found my answer at the Serious Violent Crimes Unit in Bishop Lavis, Cape Town. The detectives were divided into four groups. Most of my books deal with crimes being investigated by detectives from one specific group. Currently, there are ten detectives in the group, led by Captain Fundile Lubambo.
Unfortunately, like many of the South African Police Service’s specialist units, SVC has since been disbanded. From the start, my aim was to write realististic crime fiction—realistic criminals, realistic detectives and realistic police procedures—like the true crime books I love so much. My one exception is SVC, which lives on in my books. Because it is the perfect unit for my interests. Violent crime. Murder police.
“[A homicide detective is] entrusted with the pursuit
of that most extraordinary of crimes:
the theft of a human life.
You speak for the dead.”
David Simon, Homicide, A Year on the Killing Streets
Published by LAPA, 2014 (South Africa)
Catalyst Press, 2017 (USA)
Naturally, Dark Traces, in its original Afrikaans guise as Donker Spoor, has a very special place in my heart, because it was the first one. Not the first manuscript, but the first one to be published. To become a book. I remember that moment when I opened the box and held that first copy in my hands like yesterday …
Okay. I’m back. My ideas always begin with the crime. With Dark Traces it was an actual series of murders. I read an article about it on Crime Library and then got hold of the book that was written about the case. It’s probably rather disturbing to get excited about such things, but the case fascinated me and I wanted to write my own story about it. The personality and fantasy of the killer in Dark Traces largely resemble the actual murderer's (although he didn’t hang his victims). The stories, though, are quite different.
And then, of course, there’s Mags. Mags and I plodded along for years before we finally managed to get him in print. In fact, there was a point where I’d pretty much given up on him, but like any good murder detective Mags refused to let go.