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Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

DENISE NOE – A TRUE CRIME WRITER WITH A DIFFERENCE

In crime on December 27, 2011 at 12:01 am
Denise Noe is a contributor to a variety of true crime e-zines, crime magazine and TruTV among others.
In her articles, Denise explores the reason behind the crime and it is just this curiosity that brought her to get in touch with the 1960s Tate’s killer Charles Manson and is currently writing an update.
Here’s Denise to tell us about that experience and much more.       
First off, please, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m handicapped and have been since my early teens. My survival was ensured when my ex-husband, a finance professor, made a divorce settlement requiring him to pay me alimony for 25 years after our divorce. That alimony isn’t a great deal and it couldn’t be since he’s hardly wealthy, but it is enough to cover basics. I live very, very frugally but at least I’m not on the streets as I might be if he had not been a decent person.
My interests are varied and include dinosaurs, simians, backgammon, literature, and social welfare issues. I had a calendar filled with drawings of dinosaurs. After the year was up, I took the drawings, together with the paragraph of information about each dinosaur that was printed under each drawing, and had them framed. They are still hanging around my apartment.
I am a big fan of Koko the Signing gorilla and have posters of her around my apartment. I also have a poster of a painting created by Michael, her adoptive gorilla brother who is now deceased and was the only other gorilla to learn to Sign.
My favorite classic novel is Wuthering Heights.  Also dear to my heart are Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and The Turn of the Screw. My favorite modern writer is Joyce Carol Oates about whom I’ve written some essays that can be found online. Among her works, I’m especially fond of the novels With Shuddering Fall and Son of the Morning.
As a kid, math was always my worst subject. However, in the past few years I’ve read several books about math, some of them directed to the math-anxious, so I finally understand why many people think this subject is fun. I used to look at people who enjoyed math as if they came from another planet.
Where does the interest in crime come from?
It might relate to the fears with which I grew up. In my teen years, I heard a great deal about sex crimes and was obsessively afraid of them. I was particularly afraid of the possibility of being raped and impregnated through it. This was one reason why, during my adolescence, I tended to isolate myself and spend almost all my time in my room if I wasn’t at school or church. My parents couldn’t punish me by “grounding” me since I was always in my room by choice – or by fear.
Reading the novel Compulsion by Meyer Levin may have contributed much to my interest. I read it when I was a teenager and was fascinated by this fictional treatment of the Leopold and Loeb case – a case on which I have an article at crimemagazine.com.  I read Helter Skelter during the same time period and was utterly persuaded by its portrait of Charles Manson as a demonic and charismatic madman, a kind of proto-Hitler able to draw others into his insanity and command them to murder for it. Later, I began to doubt this portrait and I have an article about that as well called “The Manson Myth” that is also at crimemagazine.com.
 
What inspires you to write about true crime?
I am fascinated by what leads to crimes and by what leads some crimes to grab headlines and public attention.
I wonder about what leads some people to become dangerous. How does a person grow from an innocent baby to a deadly psychopath?
For example, I wrote the article for TruTV.com’s Crime Library about Carlton Michael Gary, who was convicted of the Columbus Stocking Strangler murders. In that case, a young black man attacked elderly white women in Columbus, Georgia. He broke into their homes, then raped and strangled them. It’s not hard to see a link between Gary’s childhood and the offenses. He was born to a single and impoverished woman. His biological father took no interest in him and he had no father substitute. Because of his mother’s poverty, the child was shunted between her, his aunt, and his grandmother. Both his mother and his aunt worked as housekeepers for elderly white women. I think it is likely that, as a child, he heard complaints from both women about their employers. It is possible that Gary took on a vendetta against that demographic group because of what he heard about them from his mother and aunt.
In other cases, I want to explore why previously ordinary, inoffensive people may erupt into violence. You can see that in the Jean Harris case about which I also have a story at Crime Library. Here is someone with no history of violence, a completely respectable middle-class person – yet she ends up convicted of murder. Of course, in that case, it is at least possible that she shot her longtime boyfriend, Herman Tarnower, accidentally and that the jury made a mistake in convicting her.
Social reaction to crimes can tell us much about the culture. For example, I wrote a story about the terrible injustice of the lynching of Leo Frank for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, a crime of which he was almost certainly innocent.
At Phagan’s funeral, thousands of people massed into the street to mourn this previously unknown child. Why was there this outpouring of grief for a stranger? The reason was that the society of the South was in a transitional time period. It was moving from a primarily rural economy to an urban one. In the rural settings, people had been able to closely watch young females to protect them from sexual abuse and exploitation and from the unwed pregnancies that often resulted from these things. In the urban setting, families could not keep such a close eye on the girls and women who now had to work in factories. The murder of Mary Phagan had sexual overtones so many believed she had been murdered in a rape or attempted rape.  Thus, in death, Mary Phagan represented the sexual vulnerability of the sisters and daughters of the poor and working-class people who grieved for her.
One of the most fascinating of your articles to me is My Friendship With Charles Manson. Would you like to tell us more about it?
As I said previously, after reading Helter Skelter, I was convinced that Charles Manson was a madman with extraordinary powers including, as the book stated, “the incredible power to have others kill for him.” Then I read books by his supposed “followers,” Will You Die For Me by Charles “Tex” Watson and Child of Satan, Child of God by Susan Atkins. These books awakened doubts about that portrait. I read another book called Manson In His Own Words by Nuel Emmons and those doubts crystallized. I talked to other people who had some familiarity with Manson and became convinced that the depiction in Helter Skelter was largely false. This led me to write The Manson Myth.
Awhile after it was put online, I ran off a copy of it and mailed it to Manson. Since I know he gets more mail than he could possibly read and turns most of it away for that reason, I wrote “The Manson Myth” on the envelope.  He wrote back and the relationship developed from there.
Your articles are very thorough. What tools do you use in your research?
Anything and everything I can.  I read books and articles. I search the cases on the Internet. I watch videos, DVDs, and YouTubes about cases. Very often I interview police officers, attorneys, and other principals connected with a case.
 
What are your current projects, if any?
I have projects that are not true crime related. I’m the Community Editor of “The Caribbean Star,” a bimonthly newsmagazine oriented toward the Caribbean community in metro Atlanta and the Projects Editor of “The African Star,” a monthly newsmagazine oriented toward the African emigrant community in metro Atlanta. I write Community Calendars for both publications in which I list and describe events and organizations of interest to those communities. I’m always working on my Calendars.
As far as true crime work, I’m working on an update for an article about Charles Manson. I did not write the original article for TruTV.com’s Crime Library about the case but was assigned to write the update.
I write for The Hatchet: A Journal of Lizzie Borden and Victorian Studies and am researching an article for it.
Will we ever see a book cover with your name on it as the author?
I would love for that to happen!  Are there any publishers reading this interview?  If so, I’d be delighted to have a book contract!
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?
I always appreciate feedback on my work. I adore compliments but constructive criticism is also appreciated because it helps me improve. 
Next week’s interviewee is Lawrence O’Brien, former IT manager and now published author.  He will tell us more about his publishing experience and how long it took to finally get his name on the cover of a book.


RAMPART – A FILM

In crime on December 20, 2011 at 9:41 pm

First impression: the family set-up is interesting.

Second impression: Brown is a motherfucking cop seen millions of times before.

Overall, it’s just another Hollywood crime flick with good characters, yes, but the little novelties in Brown’s life don’t keep me interested in a story that’s just… another Hollywood crime flick.

I quit and even after I find out that James Ellroy had a hand in the screenplay writing, I can’t go back to it.

Directed by Oren Moverman, written by James Ellroy and Oren Moverman, with Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Sigourney Weaver

CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD – YOU WILL SEE FIRE: A SEARCH FOR JUSTICE IN KENYA

In crime on December 20, 2011 at 12:00 am
Christopher Goffard has been writing fiction since he was a kid and subbed to every publication under the sun.
He wrote “science fiction and horror stories that were rejected by every publication from “Twilight Zone Magazine” to “Playboy,” and a lot of more down-market ones whose names would embarrass me to mention.”
Writing therefore wasn’t totally foreign to him when he decided to give fiction a go.
“Over years in courtrooms and squad cars and at crime scenes I filled notebooks with material – character sketches, dialogue, scenes – that never made it into the paper, but seemed increasingly like the spine of a novel.”
Even though Christopher had been an award winning journalist when he tried to sub his first fiction effort, he says “it took a while even to find an agent who would agree to represent me, so I didn’t take anything for granted. I eventually found a good one in the UK, and Snitch Jacket sold there first, and came out to some nice reviews, but only after that did a U.S. publisher take a chance on it.”
Snitch Jacket “it’s about a snitch, a hit man, a murder-for-hire, and a weird festival in the California desert. It’s a kind of crime-mystery book, at least superficially, but doesn’t read much like one, because for me the characters and the sentences and the riffs are always more interesting than the genre furniture.”
His second book is called You Will See Fire: A Search For Justice In Kenya.
It’s the story of “a paratrooper-turned-missionary from Minnesota, John Kaiser, who spent most of his adult life in Kenya and denounced the regime at a dangerous time when a more cautious man would have kept quiet. And it’s about the Kenyan attorney, Charles Mbuthi Gathenji, who sets out to unravel the mystery of Kaiser’s death.”
Due to Kaiser’s earlier mental issues, the FBI ruled his death a suicide, but many others thought he had been murdered. Among those was Charles Mbuthi Gathenji, a strong minded local lawyer, who took it upon himself to “unveil the truth”.
Both the priest and the lawyer “share some qualities – they both are extremely dogged.”
“The lawyer is the one who unpeels the mystery. His life story is deeply affected by the politics of the times, and that is exactly what Kaiser was addressing. They’re interwined.”
Gathenji never finds out who murdered Kaiser, but at least establishes it wasn’t suicide.
Christopher also doesn’t make any suggestions about the possible murder.
The reader is left to make up her own mind.
To find out more, check out Christopher’s website: http://www.christophergoffard.com/
Next week’s interviewee is the talented and inspirational Denise Noe, true crime writer and Charles Manson’s pen pal. Don’t miss it!

BOY WONDER – A FILM

In crime on December 19, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Patience. This film demands it. 

Thirty minutes in and I still don’t know what is really going on or where it’s going.

Thirty-one minutes in, we are told we’re in NYC. I feel like I’ve been given a huge clue. However, I still don’t know much and I’m being fed snippets of flashbacks and current events.

Is the kid a vigilante?

So far, we know he witnessed his mom’s murder and grew up in a violent environment, his father was an alcoholic, but I’m still wondering, where is this film going? And this is the main problem. It fails to keep me hooked because I don’t know where I’m being taken.

Fifty minutes in, we’re told where the MC is heading at last. And now I’d like to know more.

The father figure is a bit sketchy throughout until we get to the father finding steroids in Sean’s bedroom and then there’s the kid’s birthday and we get to see more of the father,  but by now it’s too much into the film and I want to know I’m approaching a resolution. However, I don’t feel it coming.

Seventy minutes in, we’re taken to a party Sean talked about at the very beginning of the film.

A thought pops  in my head, is there an editing problem here?

Seventy-eight minutes in the film, Sean is on a drug trip  and I wish the film would just get on now. It’s getting weird and has lost my attention.

The ending.  I’m glad to have stuck with it. The last few minutes sure deserve it.

Make room for this flick, you too might enjoy it as much as I did.

Written and Directed by Michael Morrissey with James Russo, Zulay Henao and Tracy Middendorf.       http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1456060/

BAG OF BONES – THE FILM

In crime on December 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Bag of Bones – TV Miniseries – is taken from a  1998 Stephen King book of the same title, directed by Mike Garris with Pierce Brosnan, Annabeth Gish and Anika Noni Rose, screenplay by Matt Venne.

I have just finished watching the first part and am glad is over.

Frankly, I struggled to reach the end.

Half way into the story, I was finding the attempts to create a supernatural aura ridiculous.

“One for yes, two for no,” Mike Noonan says in his attempt to believe his wife’s ghost is still lingering and so the scrambling letters on the fridge moving about on their own volition and the telephones ringing and Bunter the moose with the bell around his neck are nothing but third class attempts to create something that’s been done millions of times before.

I also didn’t enjoy the gorgeous young woman turning into femme fatale, another cliché, or the attempt to make an ageing and over-weight Pierce Brosnan into a sexy main character. Please, spare us the open shirt.

Nothing can save a tired and uninventive screenplay let alone pulling all the wrong stops.

The story itself is trite and uninteresting with mediocre characters. It gave me the impression of someone, either the director, the screenwriter or even King himself, trying to re-create an infinitely more successful one and references like, “I’m your number one fan,” and “I leave you with your Annie,” aren’t funny, but just a scary prelude to what is to come.

I have no idea whether the book was any better, but if the miniseries is anything to go by, this isn’t Misery and Stephen King certainly wasn’t at his best when he wrote it.

More comments on the film: http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/738414?utm_medium=email&utm_source=comment_instant#comment_41805963

MARK STEVENS INTERVIEW – BURIED BY THE ROAN

In crime on December 13, 2011 at 5:41 am
After years in journalism, Mark Stevens published his first mystery novel, Antler Dust, in 2007. Thus began the ‘Allison Coil Mystery Series’, based on a tough female hunting guide.
Buried by the Roan is the second in the series and it deals with ‘fracking’, a controversial technique
used to release natural gas deposits.
The series will continue on with another book at least, but Mark also has two other projects, both stands-alone written a few years back, he would like to give a second chance to. Keep your eyes peeled then for plenty more to come from this crime author.
Now, without any further ado, let’s have a word with Mark himself.
You had lots of experience in the media before going on to writing. Do you feel it was a natural transition or can you pinpoint a moment when you made the conscious decision to delve into novel writing?
I remember! Years ago a friend handed me a copy of James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity” and Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” two very different books but my first experience reading “mysteries” or “suspense,” take your pick of categories. Of course after reading those two books I had to make my way through each of those writers’ catalogs. With Highsmith, it took a few years. Cain’s stories, especially “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” were so perfect, so chiseled and precise that I wondered what it would be like to try and write something like it. (He’s got some odd stuff out there, too…some nicely warped stories.) Highsmith intrigued me, too—particularly how she wrote from the point of view of the “bad guy” or multiple “bad guys.” Her intent was to make the reader squirm and fidget and worry and she seemed to have such an easy way of pulling you inside the mind of a killer, like Tom
Ripley (for one). As you say on your web site, there’s a “human side of even the most unlikely character” and Highsmith proves this point over and over again.
Highsmith’s work opened up the possibilities for me beyond the basic “whodunits” of and I felt strangely compelled to give writing a whirl. That led the last mumble-mumble-mumble years of writing and I finally got published in 2007. I don’t know about “natural transition” from journalism to fiction but when you work with reporters, you tend to be around people who read and talk books a bit more than most (I assume) unless you work in a bookstore or library or publishing house.

If you were to describe your novels, would you slot them into a particular genre or do you feel you’re a writer and those books produced so far are just the products of the way you felt at the time of writing?
I don’t think they are easily ‘slotted’ though they fall in the general category of ‘mystery’ and the first two books begin the ‘Allison Coil Mystery Series.’ But they are not straight clue-finding mysteries. The first book, Antler Dust, includes multiple points of view including time with someone whom the reader knows, from very early in the story, as capable of murder. Allison is a hunting guide in the Flat Tops Wilderness of western Colorado and is the main source of action for the plot. A fellow hunting guide has gone missing and an animal rights protester, who has dressed in a deer skin and tried to draw fire in form of ‘creative suicide,” is also found dead. Allison gets help in Antler Dust and also gets help in Buried
by the Roan so there are multiple points of view in both books. I’ve always found it a bit implausible in amateur detective stories when the ‘amateur’ is the complete Lone Ranger and figures out major, complex conspiracies in single-handed fashion. I think I like the team approach but that doesn’t diminish the fact that Allison Coil, in my case, is the lead.

You’ve been on a tour for the new book, Buried by the Roan. How is it going?
In a word, “good.” The tour started with a major event at the Tattered Cover in lower downtown Denver and I’ve been out visiting cities and towns all over the state, particularly in western Colorado where the book is set. The response has been fantastic and the first book, Antler Dust, is selling nearly as well as the new one. Buried by the Roan seems to be striking a chord because it deals with ‘fracking,’ which is a very controversial technique used by energy companies to fracture rock far underground to release natural gas deposits. The technique uses some highly toxic chemicals and is drawing lots of criticism and concern across the United States (and Great Britain).Buried by the Roan spends most of the time in the Flat Tops Wilderness but leads Allison smack into the middle of the furor.

What has the tour taught you that you’re definitely going to do/not do in the next book tour?
I just hope the stores are all there when the third book comes out in a year or so. I visited 42 bookstores when Antler Dust came out in 2007 and many are not there today—book stores in Basalt, Glenwood Springs, Boulder etc. There is nothing better than getting out there to meet readers, though, so I won’t change much as long as the stores are still there. If you’re an author and you want to get your book in the hands of readers, you go to where the readers congregate—book stores and libraries (and look online, too).

Tell us about Allison Coil, your MC in both Antler Dust and Buried By The Roan. Why did you pick a female character to carry your stories?
First, Allison is based on a female hunting guide I met in the Flat Tops Wilderness years ago. (The real-life inspiration just stopped by one of my book signings too…it was great to see her.) She was young and, quite simply, as tough as all outdoors. She knew everything there was to know about the wilderness—geology, plants, trees, wildlife, bugs, horses, hunting, camping, surviving, you name it. She ran completely against stereotype (for me) and thus inspired the character. I developed Allison Coil from there. The main thing about Allison is that she survived a traumatic incident in the big city and found the Flat Tops as her healing spot. She will now do whatever it takes to protect it—and keep others from messing around with it. She’s the self-appointed sheriff and doesn’t mess around.

What are your future projects?
I’m finishing up the third in the Allison Coil series and I have two other finished manuscripts that I would like to go back and re-write. Both are stand-alone mystery-thriller-suspense (and both feature “bad guy” points of view). I’ve learned a lot in publishing the two Allison Coil books and I’d like to go back and work on those two titles. Both had good New York agents at one time and both came close to deals but now, in a weird way, I’m glad I have a chance to go back and make them even better.

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
I’d encourage fans of C.J. Box, Craig Johnson, Margaret Coel and other modern-day writers about the American West to take a look. Nevada Barr, too. Reviews, in fact, have mentioned all of the writers listed above and made some very flattering comparisons. While I’ve got your attention, please check out Craig Johnson’s “Hell is Empty,” one of the best books of its kind in the last few years. If you like outdoor action with your mystery-suspense novels and enjoy a strong female protagonist, please take a few minutes to browse the reviews. The first chapters from both books are up on my web site: www.writermarkstevens.com. And, finally, thanks for the opportunity to introduce myself to your audience.

Next week our interviewee will be award-winning journalist and writer Christopher Goffard, who will talk about his first novel, Snitch Jacket, and his decision to switch to true crime for his next project.

ANGELS CREST – THE FILM

In crime on December 12, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Angels Crest is the story of a 3 yr-old’s disappearance and the local community’s response to the tragedy.  

After the first ten minutes, I thought of forwarding it or even press the eject button, but I stuck to it and I’m pleased I did.

There is a lot to appreciate, from the variety of the characters, an interesting motley crew of dykes and boozers, to the community’s response to the tragedy, to the overall story.

I found it interesting and refreshing.

The drama is never too heavy and the actors are doing a great job in representing the pain of a loss and the characters’ messed up lives.

The film is taken from the book of the same title by Leslie Schwartz.

A Canadian production, the film is by Gaby Dellal, with Thomas Dekker, Lynn Collins and Elizabeth McGovern.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN – THE FILM

In crime on December 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm

The big question that pops to mind after watching the film is this: what’s more unbearable, the topic discussed or the soundtrack?  

I didn’t read the book and now  I wished I had if only to give the film soundtrack a miss. Without it, I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more. Instead, I did find myself forwarding in the most intense scenes just to skip the music.  However, I found the story very much to my taste.

A moment in the life of a teenager, who goes on a rampage in his school and the aftermath of his actions on his mom, the only survival of the family.

The characters I thought were more plausible than some of the situations, but I think that’s due to some of my own prejudices and over-knowledge of mass shooters in general and the fact that I couldn’t help drawing comparisons with another film on the same subject (Beautiful Boy, a 2010 film directed by Shawn Ku with Maria Bello, Michael Sheen and Alan Tudyk) which I thought was also interesting and maybe a tad more realistic to my eyes.

A film to watch if you’re into true crime, mass killing and introspection.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (THE FILM) by Lynne Ramsay with Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

MARILYN Z. TOMLINS – DIE IN PARIS – PART ONE

In crime on December 5, 2011 at 8:03 am
This week’s interviewee is Marilyn Z. Tomlins, a Parisian resident, who loves the city so much she says her only regret is she will never be able to “ see Paris for the first time again”. Her genre is true crime, which she writes in article and book format.
For a comprehensive list of Marilyn’s work please, check her website: http://www.marilynztomlins.com/
First off, would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?    
My life is one of writing and reading. If I am not writing then I am reading. I love books and I have more than 4,000 here in my apartment and right now taking my eyes off the screen (I need not look at the keyboard as I am a touch typist) I am looking at four non-fiction Paul Therouxs and underneath them Margaret Thatcher’s The Downing Street Years, and next to them Anthony Summers’ Goddess, The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. And looking the other way I see two hefty books about Hitler by Ian Kershaw, and beside those three books by Robert Lacey.  I also read fiction and adore the books of André Makine, and those of Amos Oz who I think should be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and then also the books of Paulo Coelho.

You live in France, Paris. Is there any reason you chose it as your home?
Yes and no. I was working for a magazine group in Durban (I was born and brought up in South Africa) when I met my husband, an English foreign correspondent who was on holiday in South Africa. He asked me to marry him and we had to decide where – in which country – we were going to live because I wanted to see the world and he did not fancy living in South Africa permanently. So after having considered Sydney, Rio, Rome (where he was based at that time) and London (where he hailed from) we decided on Paris. He was a polyglot so language was no problem. (I use the past tense because he died 10 years ago of melanoma.)
So we came to Paris, and today, I can say, that I have just one regret: I will never see Paris for the first time again. I love this city and I always feel that I want to hug it! I will never leave it – well, never say never! – but I’ve now said it.
When it comes to passport controls at airports or train stations, mine is British. I do though consider myself a European – that I’ve returned to my roots.

In your website bio you touch briefly on the reason for writing Sitting On A Stick. Would you care to elaborate on that?
Since – I think since forever – I’ve been interested in Russia. My family and friends say that it is genetic because of my ancestry. You know the ‘blood is thicker than water’ thing. Someone once wrote a book with the title ‘There are no South Africans’ and this is true. White South Africans, as you will know, are not indigenous to the country. All, or rather their ancestors, arrived from somewhere else. Mine arrived from Germany, France, Holland, Poland and Russia. The first – a Dutchman – arrived in 1662, in the tenth year after the Dutch set up a settlement at the Cape under Jan van Riebeeck. And the last arrived at the beginning of the 20th century. Those were the Poles and the Russians. So from my father’s ‘German’ side I was the 11th generation to have been born in South Africa, and from my mother’s Polish and Russian side, I was the 2nd generation born in South Africa.
I did not know my Polish and Russian great-grandparents and grandparents naturally, but I grew up listening to stories about them, and so I became interested in Russia. My interest focused first on Russian literature – for example Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekov, Mandelstam and above all Pasternak – and from there it went to politics – Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin etc.
I therefore wanted to write about Stalin and also about Pasternak and with my novel Sitting on a Stick I wrote about both. Writing about Pasternak I could also write about Stalin and those terrible years of Stalinism.

Die In Paris. Again you touch briefly on your website bio about the reason for writing about Dr Marcel Petiot, but you concealed the key point that spurred you on to write about him. Would you like to finally reveal it to us?
This will not be a full revelation. For that I am not yet ready. I will though tell you a little about it.
I was a very frightened child. Everything scared me. I used to jump on to a chair and shout for my father to come and kill the moth which had just flown in through the window. Remember, this was Africa and there were many creepy crawlies about so jumping on to a chair was a daily happening. I could never watch a horror film or read a horror book. Even Stephen King’s books scared the daylights out of me.  I must just say that my mother was a true crime reader and my husband was a true crime reader and my sister is a true crime reader, but I always had to leave the room when a discussion about murder was going on.
Then something traumatic happened in my life. My husband was diagnosed with melanoma and passed away. And then I changed. I think it happened because I wanted to know about life and about death. I suppose I asked the questions that all people who lose someone to death asks. And so I changed. For the first time in my life I could sit through a scary film and read about murder and murderers. And moths no longer scare me!

…continue in the next column….

MARILYN Z. TOMLINS – DIE IN PARIS – PART TWO

In crime on December 4, 2011 at 12:02 pm
Now I will come to the revelation.  
About 30 years ago – I was already living in Paris – I began to experience a strange flash. The first time it happened I thought that I had had a nightmare, but the second time it happened in brought daylight and I knew that I was wide awake and I’ve experienced what is called a ‘flash’. I saw myself lying on the floor of a dark, dank, roughly-cemented basement room. There was no furniture in the room. I was naked. I was lying on my stomach and I had very long blonde hair (which I did have then) and there was blood everywhere. On the floor, on the walls, over me, and my hair was soaked with blood. And yes – I was dead. In other words I saw my own dead body. When I had the first flash I told my husband and he tried to calm me by saying that I’ve had a nightmare. When it happened for the second time he did not say anything. From then on it happened regularly and I was convinced that I was going to be murdered. I told my family about the flashes. I told my friends. All reacted in the same way. They said: “Oh goodness Marilyn, don’t say that please! And do be careful!” When my husband passed away I thought of buying a cottage in the country but those who knew about my flashes told me that I must not even think of it, that I must always live in an apartment with people around me.
One day, about eight years ago, I was reading a book about France under German occupation and my eye caught the name Marcel Petiot in a sentence. Immediately I wanted to know more about him. I’d heard of him about 15 years earlier but only briefly and I’d never given him another thought. But, there, seeing his name, I had to know more about him. Then, when I started to research him, I had to know more and more about him. He had drawn me down into him so to speak – and it was very dark down there.  Next, quite a few weeks into my research (and I research thoroughly) I came to how he had disemboweled and dismembered his victims. He did so in a basement room of his Paris townhouse. The room was roughly-cemented, without furniture, dark and dank. And I nearly fainted. I was sitting on my settee in my living room, files and books laid out on the floor around me, and my head started to turn. The flash of the past 30 years – the basement room of my flash was Dr Petiot’s basement room. I sat there and it dawned on me that I’ve not had that flash for a very long time. I tried to remember when I’d had the last one, but I could not. And I’ve never had it again.
I then found out something else. Dr Petiot was buried in a mass grave in a cemetery that my apartment building overlooks. I came to live here in this apartment 20 years ago but the cemetery was not then visible from my windows but had become so just at the time when I had become interested in Dr Petiot because some buildings across the avenue had been demolished. So there I had a perfect view of where they had buried Dr Petiot. In my years in Paris I had gradually moved closer to the cemetery, until eventually I was living across the street from it. And then Dr Petiot came into my life.
Coincidence? Perhaps not, but here though I will have to halt because I am not ready yet to speak of what had happened next. I’m sorry but I can’t speak of it yet.
You’re working on two projects simultaneously, Bella, Bella, Bella… and Scenario Of A Death. What are they about and how are they coming along?
Bella, Bella, Bella … is a novel set in France – in beautiful Normandy – in the 1980s. It is like Sitting on a Stick a sad political love story in that it is the story of two misfits who fall in love. Bella Wolff was born during World War Two of a French mother and a German father. She was in other words the child of a ‘horizontal collaborator’, as French women were called who slept with German soldiers, and therefore socially undesirable.  The guy in the novel, an English writer, was also socially undesirable because his mother was not English and Christian. I have 85,000 words written and I’m thinking of changing the title to A French Life, or using A French Life as a sub title.
Scenario of a Death is about the death of Princess Diana. I do not yet have a word written of the book itself, but I do have a 33-page proposal.
I believe that we do not know what really happened in Paris that August night in 1997. I cannot at this stage say that I have proof that Princess Diana was murdered. What I say is that her death needs re-investigation. The French are not good investigators as anyone will know who has read my true crime articles which are available on the web, and if anyone wanted to remove her, Paris would have been the perfect place to have done so.  I can already say that the French made errors in their investigation and in the autopsy on the Ritz security chief, Henri Paul, who was behind the wheel of the Princess’ car that night.  But I need a publisher’s backing to continue with my research and investigation. I’ve gone as far as I can with the financial means that I have, and now I need assistance.  I am a tough investigator and I will leave no stone unturned.
Another, shall we say, peculiarity of yours, is to write about crime even though, you claim “I could never read books, or see movies, that had violence or horror in it.” What is it then that captures you to the point of wanting to know more about the characters in the articles you write about?
I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. In Die in Paris I do not judge or analyse Dr Petiot.  I thought that by telling the story of his life and his crimes the readers could and would decide for themselves what had gone on in his head. As for me judging him – he was judged, found guilty and guillotined.  I wanted readers to ask at the end of the book: “What got into this guy? Was he mad? Or just wicked?”
Speaking of what goes on in a murderer’s head, at the time of the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, the biographer Hannah Arendt coined the term ‘banality of evil’. She had come to the conclusion that people who commit acts of evil are not necessarily horrible monsters. The psychiatrists who had assessed Eichmann, for example, found him a ‘completely normal man’ and a man who was ‘neither brilliant nor a sociopath’.
From the murderers I’ve written about, I know that the most ordinary person can kill. I am working on an article now about a French woman who killed her husband. He was a drunk and womaniser and she was a most loving wife and mother, yet one day she fed him sleeping pills, then battered him to death and then she cut him up with his own electric saw.  I also wrote about Shrien Dewani from Bristol who allegedly had organised the slaying of his wife while on their honeymoon in Cape Town. He too is being described as a most gentle man.

And for last, an open question. Is there anything else you feel our readers should know about you or your work?
I would like to say that I am represented by Susan Mears of the Susan Mears Literary Agency. She’s pitched British publishers and nine have manifested an interest in my work. Of the nine publishers six have asked to see my proposal for Scenario of a Death. The agency also represents my already published Die in Paris.

As we say here in France – Voilà.

Next week’s interviewee is Mark Stevens, mystery writer. who’s currently touring the States with his second instalment of the ‘Allison Coil Mystery Series’, Buried by the Roan, to great success. Don’t miss it!