Murder, he wrote ...

By Diane de Beer Time of article published Sep 1, 2011

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His earlier work in magic realism didn’t do well in this country, that is why Mike Nicol turned to crime.

In writing, of course, not reality.

He was fascinated by how well local author Deon Meyer was doing, but had always thought himself too superior for crime writing. Once he started delving deeper, he discovered there was far more to the genre than met his jaundiced eye.

And as Meyer sits across the table from now good friend Nicol, the then novice to crime writing tips a hat at the more seasoned author. In the meantime, Nicol has finished his first crime trilogy and might just have kept going with this particular gang if his partner hadn’t advised him to move on to something and someone else.

But he’s going to miss his two crime heroes (Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso) who scratched around in the underbelly of Cape Town as crime often sought them rather than they it.

When still researching the route he should go, Nicol was surprised to discover how many crime authors deal in social issues. But he also had to look at his style of writing.

He decided to start by writing a thriller with someone else and turned to fellow writer Joanne Hichens. It was an interesting exercise, but not one he wants to repeat. It’s not that it was a bad experience , just something he personally found difficult, but with his trilogy a success, it’s an unlikely scenario. He has found his thriller legs and the way he likes to function in this world.

For his first individual foray, he decided to focus on the security industry, developing two unusual characters – one white, the other black – to be his crime-solving heroes. But if you think for a second Nicol’s stories will allow you to escape the violent world we live in, think again.

“It’s where I vent all my anger and frustration about the system,” says Nicol with a huge smile.

Having read all three books in succession, I get that. There’s not much about crime in South Africa that doesn’t appear on these pages. People are out there trying to make a buck as fast as they can and usually at the expense of others. So if this is a cynical view of what’s happening on our streets, that’s exactly the picture he paints. It’s a scary world we live in and if the Cape of Good Hope is a place you want to escape to, his version might have you think again.

Not only did he find that he could create believable fighting men, he also knows how to paint an individual who is truly evil. There’s not much to like about Shameena February, who is determined from beginning to end to get her revenge on the men she feels harmed her most.

Nicol believes Cape Town in all its magnificence presents a perfect backdrop, but also milks the possibility of a scene so beautiful that hides something from the world – it is that which he explores and has fun with. When chastised about taking one of the most darling characters out, his immediate reaction tells you that he has heard these complaints before and that it has all become part of the intrigue.

Because he has made specific choices with his crime-writing approach, there’s an element of catharsis for the writer as he spews forth, which is perhaps why, as a reader, depending on your vulnerability, you feel slightly trammelled.

But don’t shy away. If you haven’t encountered the Nicol brand yet, tackle it head on. He is as good a storyteller as a writer and as long as you keep the doors and windows locked, you will be safe.

As for ending the trilogy, Nicol says, when rereading the proofs of the final book, he noticed he had left quite a few gaps for future stories. He has found his métier in crime-writing and as a bonus, he discovered that crime authors are an amazing bunch to hang out with and is thrilled to join that particular band of brothers.

l (Nicol’s revenge trilogy – Payback, Killer Country and Black Heart – is published by Umuzi.)

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