Setting the Kiwi murder scene – Steve Braunias at the Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Steve Braunias has a very specific take on what makes New Zealand murders quintessentially Kiwi. And it all comes down to setting in his opinion.

The Scene of the CrimeMost of us have a stage-set notion of the perfect murder scene: cold, dark, with driving rain and a gothic castle in the background. Not so says Braunias, most Kiwi bad stuff goes down in the dullest of suburban settings: dreary, dull, ordinariness is where it’s at.

And he has evidence to support this: he peers over fences, peeps through windows and generally finds fascination in the homes of the many murder victims and perpetrators he has followed. Like Ron, who at 82 has served his time and is back living in the same house in which horrific abuse of his daughter took place. Braunias can tell you that Ron’s home has no bookcase and one red and one blue gingham tea towell hanging on the washing line. You feel you already know that place.

And he is very taken up wth the Mark Lundy case. From his description, I can picture that home now: the daisy bush outside the window, the coffee mug on the draining board, the huge king size bed in the small bedroom, the single sock hanging on the washing line. The blood stains on the carpet. And it is that very ordinairiness that sucks us in.

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Steve Braunias, Image supplied

In question time a brilliant query was lobbed Steve’s way: New Zealand has almost no serial killers. Why not? Even Australia has them. Braunias was very impressed with this question and you could almost hear the cogs whirring: Is there another book in this?

Finally: “Murder illuminates the lives we lead” according to Braunias – and in New Zealand, he maintains, most of us are living narrow, pinched, ordinary lives. The contrast between the brutal act of murder and the banal settings in which the murders take place is in fact who we are.

So, in the same way that you should always wear clean undies in case of a car crash, you should also keep your house full of books and eye-catching decor – just in case!

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