mar­celle perks

With ‘ lust­mord’ on her mind, Mar­celle Perks delves into the seedy un­der­belly of Ger­many in her de­but novel

Real Crime - - Contents -

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.

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