Hi all! Today we’re lucky to have author Lee Winter with us here at Women and Words! She’s kicking of the blog tour for The Law Game, a series of stories from Ylva Publishing that highlight some aspect of law/criminal enterprise.
As part of the blog tour, we’re giving away an e-book copy of all five books. All you have to do is drop a comment at any of the five stops. We’ll select the winner and post info about it here on Women and Words at the end of the tour! See the end of the blog for a complete schedule.
Monsters at Our Table
By Lee Winter
I have met killers. No, seriously. Sadly, more than I can count. Unlike on TV, they lean to the dull witted and hot headed. They also tend to be unsettlingly normal.
One killer who always comes to mind first is Australia’s most infamous butcher, dubbed the North Shore Serial Killer, or the Granny Killer.
Once, in the mists of my distant past when I lived in Sydney, I spent time as a court reporter. And that was when I came to know John Wayne Glover.
He was a portly pie salesman from the well-heeled North Shore Sydney suburb of Mosman. He had a friendly countenance, startling blue eyes, and a mop of white hair. He could be anyone’s kindly grandpa.
For many months, I sat about a metre away from this serial killer in court.
There was me at the press bench, elbow to elbow with other journalists, madly scribbling in shorthand before sprinting out of court each day at noon to file the story by phone to the interstate paper, the Melbourne Herald Sun. Each day the paper held its afternoon edition’s front page, waiting for my story. No pressure.
Then I would tear back into court to cover the story for the rest of the day and file for all the waiting Murdoch morning papers. And there Glover would sit, in silence, at right angles to me, facing forward. Not brooding. Just staring blankly. Awaiting his inevitable judgment.
He was so close I could touch him if I wanted.
No, I never wanted.
There’s a strange thing that happens when you cover a long-running court case. Connections form. You nod at the same faces each day in the public gallery. There are the curious onlookers who are there for the high-profile cases, along with those who might know or be related to one of the victims.
You recognise, too, the lawyers and their para-legals who rush in to drop paperwork at the desks for their colleagues, as well as the stenographer,the security guard, the magistrate, and the prosecutor.
You nod. You don’t speak to them, it’s usually not ‘done.’ Not inside court anyway, but there’s that connection. The ‘we’re all in this together’ feeling, much like actors experience on film sets. The longer you’re there, the tighter it gets.
So we’re connected, all of us. Including the alleged (and undeniably guilty) serial killer.
Sometimes Glover would turn to the right and look at me. His eyes would bore into mine. He knew why I was there, why all of us along the side bench were there – to report his crimes.
To his mind, we were there to make him look bad. To lay his weaknesses bare.
To mention his embarrassments – his impotence and hatred of older women who reminded him of his heckling mother. To point out to readers how he was pathetic, how he preyed on the weakest victims of all.
One of his six targets (who included his own girlfriend) was a 93-year-old woman, who was more wrinkles and concave skin than a fully-fleshed woman.
Her helpless image is still seared into my mind from the photos the prosecution put up on displays for all to see. They wanted us to look into her eyes, to take in her frail, paper-thin skin, the liver spots and lines, and to know that this man, this man sitting right there, this man who I could feasibly touch if I just leaned across my desk, had ended her life. Bludgeoned her from behind, like all the other victims, with a hammer.
And now, that man is connected to me whether I like it or not. He’s unshakeably in my brain now. Along with the would-be extortionist who killed world-famous heart surgeon Victor Chang. And a man who drowned his wife in a bath and could not stop crying, so upset was he that he’d been caught.
This is the truth about justice, the law and courts. We’re all really just an arm-reach away from the dregs of society. The bottom scrapings of humanity. It’s just convenient to forget that fact whenever we can – and I can’t blame anyone for wanting to.
There’s a line in my new book, Requiem for Immortals, that says: “You know what’s scariest about monsters? It’s our knowledge that they’re just human beings like everyone else, one twist away from normal. Not even a full twist.”
That is the crux of the terror of our species. Truly. To look into the eyes of a man who was once a popular pie seller and understand that this killer could be anyone. Glover blended so perfectly into suburbia, with his grandpa looks and crisp, white office shirt.
I recall one trembling, elderly witness told the court she had asked Glover to walk her home for her protection at the height of the unsolved serial-killer spree, which was between 1989 to 1990.
The poor woman later recognised Glover when he was arrested as the nice man who’d been her escort that night.
That’s the stuff of nightmares.
When I wrote my book about an underworld assassin, I did it knowing the most unsettling thing about my character, a professional cellist in her day job, was that she could be anyone. She could pass seamlessly from the worlds of uplifting music to the ruthless underbelly of society. And no one dreamed it could be her.
What I could not bring myself to do in Requiem for Immortals was create a protagonist who thoughtlessly did what John Glover did.
My Natalya/Requiem could not kill without conscience. She could not be as empty as those startling blue eyes that I sat across from all those months. She could not be a creature of pure darkness or of hate. She had a soul.
I could never write about such a person as Glover, never lionise them in fiction, because once you’ve met them in reality, revulsion, horror, and sadness can only ever be your response. I didn’t want to briefly visit that world, let alone write and wallow in it for months on end.
So my assassin is sleek, powerful. She is beautiful. A lesbian. And she is conflicted. She creates beauty through her cello. She takes the lives of those who deserve it and points out the errors of their ways in the method with which she dispatches them.
Crucially, or paradoxically perhaps to some readers, she is not a psychopath. She has her own code. She is also, most pointedly, bloodless in her kills.
In the end, the book I chose to write about is the monsters we see and those we don’t. Not all monsters are so clear. Some are beautiful and vain, narcissistic and shallow. Others kill. Both are frightening in their own way.
And the lines between the two, like the space between my desk and that of a serial killer’s, can at times be very blurry indeed.
Lee Winter is an award-winning newspaper journalist and in her 25-year career has lived in virtually every state of Australia, covering courts, crime, entertainment, hard news, features and humor writing.
These days she’s a sub-editor at a Sunday metro newspaper, lives with her girlfriend of 16 years and has a fascination for shiny new gadgets and trying to understand the bizarre world of US politics.
Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour!