A South Auckland detective on his writing career
I spend my days as a Police detective in south Auckland; I don’t feel the need to write about it too. My books are a variety of action thrillers, spy thrillers, post-apocalyptic thrillersâ¦ you get the picture. I write a bit of crime, it’s where I cut my teeth, but I keep it light.
Monsters walk among us. Child abusers, rapists, killers and thugs. It’s the bread and butter of a detective, and I get frustrated with writers who don’t get it right. The procedures are wrong, the lingo, ranks, systems – basic stuff to get right. I once read a Police procedural by an acclaimed Kiwi author and wanted to throw the book out the window; it was all wrong.
I find it interesting who reads crime stuff too – well-to-do liberals from the leafy suburbs seem to have a fascination with murder. I guess it’s something that rarely, if ever, touches their world. Maybe it’s curiosity about the unknown – staring at the dirty street urchin as you whiz by in the Audi.
Murder is carried out by uneducated thugs with a lump of wood or an illegal firearm (weren’t they all handed in?). It’s carried out by psychotically violent men over perceived wrongs or a botched drug deal. It’s messy and nasty and leaves families shattered. Dead bodies don’t lie peacefully on a deep pile carpet in a perfectly manicured room; they bleed out on the front lawn, or into the gutter near a smashed bottle while other drunks continue fighting around them.
That’s where real murder lives; the gutter. There’s nothing fancy about it. Children get killed by those who should be protecting them. It’s gutting and mind-boggling and never seems to stop.
Why would I want to write about such things? This is the sort of shit you try to forget, to pack away in a safe compartment to slowly fade away into the background and eventually be forgotten.
Interviewing these people is a challenge. Not only to do it in a legally-acceptable way, but to put your personal feelings aside. You want them to tell you what happened, why they did it. They don’t want to feel judged. They want to be heard, or often, they don’t want to talk. You can’t help but think of your own family, or the relatives of the victim you’ve just been dealing with.
One guy calmly told me how he and his mates had beaten a man to the ground then rammed a sword through his head. The man had dared to tell to keep the noise down. Another bloke told me about how he’d beaten his wife to death then almost decapitated her. He did this via hand signals, nods and grunts, because he’d also slit his own throat. I was standing in his lounge at the time, and it was like an abattoir.
This is not a normal day at the office for most people, but it’s what detectives do.
Policing can be a tough gig. Massive highs and abyss-deep lows. Horrendous stuff happens out there – let’s be honest, New Zealand’s record of child abuse and alcohol-fueled violence is abysmal – and someone has to deal with it. But as a writer, I need to leave that at the door and not take it home. I don’t want it to leak into my homelife or my books.
Action is where it’s at for me. My latest book, Behind Enemy Lines, is a classic World War II yarn. It’s the product of that constant soundtrack in my head, and a small piece of writing I did during an online course run by Damien Wilkins last year during the first lockdown. Damien (an absolute gentleman) took a bunch of essential workers through a course for several weeks, gently guiding us, polishing a bit here, cutting out a rotten bit there. It was an eclectic group of people and I learned a lot. It’s the only formal writing training I’ve ever done, and without it, I wouldn’t have produced what I consider to be my best book.
It’s my tip of the hat to the genre owned by Alistair Maclean and Jack Higgins, the masters of nail-biting war action. The good guys are agents of the Special Operations Executive, a legendary outfit of mavericks and daredevils. The bad guys are really, really bad guys, Nazis, the kind you just want to see get smashed by the gutsy Allied heroes. Spies and traitors. Air combat action, assassinations, street warfare. It’s all there, and so is character. I like character; it drives the action. I care about my characters, I want them to succeed – but they’ve got to go through some pain first. Steve Braunias has astutely described my books as âhe-man thrillersâ and I’m okay with that. I write strong women, smart kids, gutsy people who battle to overcome the obstacles they face, whether that’s a war zone, a societal breakdown, a mystery or an adversary who seems hellbent on destroying them.
I’m fascinated by the warrior spirit. The sort of person who runs towards the sound of gunfire when everyone else is running away. The sort of person who will deliberately put themselves in danger to save others. To know the risk and act anyway.
My mind buzzes constantly with plot ideas, character traits, scenes I’d like to write, names, locations, cars, food, music, smells and sounds. It’s like a soundtrack to my life, the muzak in the elevator that never turns off but occasionally throws up a little gem that sticks in your head.
Sometimes people think I’m listening attentively to what they’re saying, and sometimes I actually am. Other times I’m picturing them in a scene. Or working out how to kill them.
Angus’ books are available online. He has produced over 20 novels in a variety of genres, including Martial law (a family fight to survive a societal collapse), Smoke and Mirrors (an SAS soldier hunts an escaped Saudi terrorist), No Second Chance (a black ops specialist chases a terrorist mastermind across the globe), Fallen Angel (an Auckland-based private eye investigates the murder of his girlfriend), Red mist (a detective on the edge faces his last case) and The Shadow Dancers (a diplomat’s daughter goes missing in a war zone.)