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Margie Orford

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Making Sense of Death, The Banality of Violence and the Madness of Gaddafi

I wanted to write about death and dying this week. Death is central to crime fiction; making sense of death is its heart. There were two deaths that touched me this past week, one directly, one less so.

The first death was a good death.

My beloved old father-in-law died last Thursday in his own bed, in his sleep. At peace. A fine end, all things considered, to a fine life.

He joined up at eighteen and fought in the desert campaign in North Africa during the World War II. He was an active and lifelong member of the Gunners Association. A way, I imagine, of making sense of the deaths of so many young men killed in the Sahara in the early 1940s. The commemorations, the wreaths, the marches, the care for widows and indigent old veterans, were a way of honouring the dead and celebrating the brazen good luck of the living.

There is no material for a crime novel in that passing, unless one can find a way of writing about the cruel evolutionary joke that robs fine minds of their cohesion in old age. He had Alzheimer’s disease and I would happily pitch a bounty hunter of the Lee Child variety to go after that renegade gene that unravelled his personality and memory in the end.

But in the end, it was a release, a death that one could stitch into the fabric of a family.

The second death unravelled a family.

Two weeks ago a grandmother was reported missing from her home in Johannesburg. She was sixty-five years old. She was plump and jolly and loved, part of a wide network of friends and family.

After a frantic searches by her distraught family and the police her bludgeoned body was found near a railway track. Her car, a clapped out old vehicle, was spotted in various places and then the cops stopped it and the men (the woman’s killers) were arrested and charged. Her family have buried her and, if the slow and rickety wheels of the South African justice system turn, the men who murdered her will get life.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Liesl</a>
    February 21st, 2011 @20:54 #

    One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic, said Stalin. How to make sense of murder on the scale of statistics is beyond my reach. My head and heart don't stretch that far. My imagination is too brittle.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 21st, 2011 @22:07 #

    Superb piece, Margie, one of yr best. What to do when the neurons simply balk at processing horrific information...


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