With ‘ lustmord’ on her mind, Marcelle Perks delves into the seedy underbelly of Germany in her debut novel
The Night Driver author tells us who inspired her terrifying serial killer
Night Driver’s serial killer, Lars Stiglegger, considers himself the reincarnation of Fritz Haarmann, Germany’s first recorded serial killer. What intrigues you about him?
When I first moved to Hanover, Germany, in 2001 I found out Haarmann was the local legend. He remains Germany’s most famous murderer and has been described as a vampire or werewolf for his predilection of biting his male victims to death through the jugular vein during the act of coitus. He was executed in 1925 for the murders of at least 24 men in an insanely tiny room with no running water and many flights of stairs.
Most German writers have focused on the taboo nature of the killings, but I was intrigued about how he could have done it. The clean- up after the killings must have been a logistical nightmare! He chopped up his victims in his tiny room, allegedly sold the meat to restaurants and threw the rest in the River Leine. I suspect he wasn’t responsible for all the murders, or that his lover and friends were somehow involved.
Despite this obsession with ‘ Onkel Fritz’, Lars doesn’t seem like a monster. Tell us why you opted to portray him as broken but compassionate.
I tried to get inside his head, and people don’t think of themselves as monsters; they create a story to justify their actions. Lars feels he is like a hunter and that the killing is an act of mercy. He’s also compelled to kill, and can’t really resist the urge. Haarmann’s a serial killer more in the Fred West mould than Dennis Nilsen. We know he was well liked. He worked as a police informant, and the police allowed him to pass himself off as a detective so he was socially very active with many friends and associates.
A lot of editors were put off by the depiction of a gay serial killer. It seems you can have a fictional gay serial killer as long as you depict him as ‘ other’ and describe the aftermath of his killing activities, but if, like Brian Masters, who wrote Killing For Company, you wanted to get into the soul of the man and depict how and why he was compelled to kill, then this was somehow wrong. And if you dared to make him the nicest guy in the book, and normalise his ‘ lustmord’ as an essential part of him and encourage reader identification, then it’s eternal rejection. Editors turned down Night Driver over 170 times.
Eight- months pregnant but determined to get out on the road to solve the mystery, Frannie is often described as ‘ selfish’ by her doctors, friends, and family – do you think she’s selfish?
No not at all, the only danger to her pregnancy is if she were to perform an emergency stop, which you hardly ever do. She’s acting on nesting instinct in that she wants to prepare everything for her baby’s birth. As she lives in a small village, in order to buy essential supplies she needs to be able to drive, so she’s practising now so she’ll have the experience once the baby is born. Actually the fact that the main character was pregnant and placed in dangerous situations made editors nervous. To me being pregnant is a normal condition. Contrary to the popular belief that pregnant women should put their feet up, in reality they have to go to work, look after older children and keep doing the things they were doing before.
Night Driver is your debut novel, but you’ve written several books and guides to sex in the past. How did you end up making the leap to crime?
When it was my 40th birthday I was in London to celebrate it and met Maxim Jakubowski, who’d published some of my short stories in the Mammoth Book Of Best Erotica series. He was commissioning a line of thrillers for a publisher and encouraged me to write something. That was the initial spur. As I’d been fascinated by the Haarmann case ever since I moved to Germany it was my chance to write about him. As an erotic writer, it was natural for me to want to articulate Haarmann’s desire. As sexual motive is behind most serial killer activity, it seems hypocritical not to articulate this.