I am a crime writer. I am a crime writer sick and tired of it … worn down by the blood and deceit, the conniving and trickery in my books. As each manuscript reaches the publisher, I think: That’s it, that’s the last. But Gus won’t let me alone.
Augustus Crabbe—not his real name, a self-styled detective, a third generation Hercule Poirot—keeps feeding me, hounding me with material. Crimes so heinous and irresistible in their ingenuity and design, their wit and brilliance, I can’t turn away but must tap, tap, tap at the keyboard in a writing frenzy so as not to miss any of the vital details or nuances important to the reader’s hold on the narrative thread.
He sends information by email. By fax if I avoid the computer for days on end. He sends newspaper clippings and police photographs by post.I try to ignore the bulky post-bags but cannot last more than a day without ripping into the package, pouring myself a fortifying scotch and laying out the contents on the living room floor, piecing together the gruesome jigsaw puzzle he has sent to keep me in his thrall.
More than once I have gathered up the fragments in a rage at the enormity of the evil perpetrated on this earth, and moved to throw them into the open fire, but the novelist within can’t bear to waste the material, vital and original in its authentic horror, and I begin once again to tell the story of the victim, the villain and the discovering detective. This is what the pay-off must be for Augustus, the hero, the avenging angel, the cleverer-than-thou opponent of the criminal. And the readers share this thrill.
It has been profitable. The thatched cottage within easy commute to London; the shiny motor in the drive; the annual trip to Barbados … but it is a lonely life, without my wife who packed up our daughters fifteen years ago and left in desperation, having been shut away from my life and work, and the festering evil lurking in the piles of notebooks, photographs and envelopes in my study. I lock it all away, in many filing cabinets, and hide the keys.
So we go on together, Gus and I, in our collaboration, describing a litany of crimes, man’s inhumanity to man. And to woman, and to child, to beast and to international corporation. He will drop by and sit in the twilight smoking with me, tossing around motive, alibis and the reliability of witnesses. Why am I the mouse in his trap? He once read and liked an article of mine in The Examiner, so he chose me to be his vehicle—wanting the world to know of his work and the evil that most of us are oblivious to in our daily round of eating, shopping, working and loving.
I have tried to stop him sending the stuff … but he is resolute. I try to contact him with stern messages requesting no more material be sent, but he is untraceable, uncontactable. He supplies no phone number. If I reply to his email, it comes back “undeliverable”. Postmarks on packages are indecipherable, faxes come from untraceable numbers. “What if I need you?” I ask.
“Never mind, old chap,” he replies mildly. “I’ll always find you.”
Mrs Henderson comes in daily to “see” to me. She cooks a casserole, prepares lunch, washes and tidies. Loopy, the basset hound whose basket lies empty beside the kitchen door, decamped to the neighbours when I went on a month’s holiday and never came home. In a kind of ironic recompense their black and white cat adopted me, and she sits on the wide windowsill in the sun where my wife’s porcelain animals once stood in a row—watching out the diamond paned casement window, or if the weather is bad she curls in front of my fire.
Occasionally a photograph arrives from Australia showing slim, tanned young women, nothing like the downy-haired, dimple-chinned babies I remember … I suppose they gain some pleasure from name-dropping, their father the crime writer whose novels are adapted by the BBC and shown, in English and in sub-titles, all over the world. But they aren’t interested in seeing me. I’m the source of monetary support tucked away in the curiosity cupboard with the thatched cottages and field mice of their storybooks. And it is better that way.
So I go on—putting together evidence and narrative and explaining the criminal mind. And the public is fascinated, paying good money for the sanitized version of the evil that the publishers will allow. I can’t give the full revolting horror Gus provides to me. The censor has come a long way but there are still limits to what the public stomach can handle.
Today, overwhelmed by the sheer pointlessness of the evil, I turn away from the computer, lock the front door and head across the fields breathing in the revitalising, cleansing, fresh country air.