By Mike Nicol
The CWA did a survey of the body count in British crime fiction last year and came up with an average of 8.38 bodies per book. However, one enthusiast had turned in a slaughterhouse of 150 bodies. Seems these fictional victims met all manner of horrible ends from being sliced up in an olive machine to being taxidermied alive, poisoned by Ribena, and gored by the horns of a goat. I did a quick whip round of the South African crime writers and found that we didn’t come out too badly when compared against the northern contingent. Over 19 books there was an average of 18 bodies per book, this largely due to some impressive figures turned in by Roger Smith. Then Chris Marnewick wrote to say he had 75 bodies in his book and with that the average went through the roof. Here’s a quick survey from the local gang on their own body counts arranged in order of licentiousness:
Roger Smith: “A Swiss reviewer (of course!) counted the bodies in Mixed Blood and Wake Up Dead: 134 and 135. So Wake Up Dead wins by a nose. I think my third, Dust Devils [due for release here later in the year], may be a bit lighter. Methods: Okapi knife, gun, fire, drowning, vehicular manslaughter, strangulation.”
Chris Marnewick: “If you count Shepherds & Butchers as a crime novel, and you count only those victims who are named, then it has at least 75. All real people.”
Deon Meyer: “Sheesh, as if I keep score. Most for me? Probably Devil’s Peak. About 10 dead people. I’ll try and get the numbers up in future.” [Readers might recall that some of them were dispatched by assegai.]
Jassy Mackenzie: “My body counts are as follows (approximately): Random Violence (8); My Brother’s Keeper (5); Stolen Lives (5) and Worst Case [to be published in August] (9). Methods used: mostly shootings, but in Worst Case I also have three drownings (one involving concrete blocks), a few stabbings and somebody crushed by a car. This is because Jade’s on holiday in this book, and when you go on holiday it’s nice to break away from your everyday routine.”
Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip): “In A Carrion Death (our highest body count to date) there are eight victims – one woman and seven men. Five were shot. One was the victim of a deliberate hit and run. One had his throat cut with a knife. And one was punched and smashed his skull on a shower head. (Not quite the intended time or method in the last case.)
“For A Deadly Trade it’s embarrassingly low at only five – all men. Two were killed by stabbing with a stiff wire like a bicycle spoke set in a piece of wood as a handle, one clubbed to death, one run over by a vehicle pretending to be a rogue elephant, and one killed by a lucky punch (lucky for him).
“For Death of the Mantis, it’s seven – all men. Two were killed with knobkieries, two with Bushman Poison Bulb in their food, one with a poisoned arrow (probably the beetle grub poison), one was stabbed and one was deliberately abandoned to die in the desert. Of course Kubu was ‘nearly’ number eight…”
Margie Orford: “I don’t know. Body count going down in my book. It is tiring killing so many people. I don’t know how murderers keep it up. Although in the new one, Gallows Hill [out later this year], there are about three thousand dead bodies. But I don’t think it counts because they were dead when the book starts…”
Sarah Lotz: “The body count in my crime fiction [Tooth and Nailed and Exhibit A] is zero, but this wasn’t a calculated decision – it just turned out this way. As I write legal dramas, my characters are dealing with events after the crime has been committed, and it seemed to be too much of a contrivance to slot in a few dead bodies for the sake of it. However, the inference in Tooth and Nailed is that the wild animals in the novel (a much maligned hyena and a pride of lions) will be euthanized – basically because they have been habituated (thanks to careless and self-serving human interaction), and this, for me, is as much of a disturbing and tragic scenario as writing a narrative where innocent (human) victims are bloodily murdered. Not sure this counts in this type of discussion though!”
As footnote my own body count ranges from a fair number in Payback as it includes a bomb blast and a gunfight, 11 in Killer Country, mostly shot, although one was dispatched with a razor and another with a ceremonial sword, while in Black Heart the grim reaper took off a mere eight, all neatly and quickly exiting with death by bullet.