Monday, 12 October 2015

Crime – the ultimate world traveller by Marnie Riches

This week, I delivered The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows to my editor - the third instalment of my series, which follows the adventures through Europe’s criminal underworld of criminologist George McKenzie. The sense of relief at having come to the end of a nine month work binge that saw me toiling away for nigh on fifteen hours a day, seven days per week is enormous! But the sense of achievement is wonderful too. It has been quite a journey that has thrown up some unanticipated surprises…

When I began penning my award-winning debut crime thriller, The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, it never occurred to me that certain themes would emerge in the writing process over the course of three books. With a mixed-race heroine of Jamaican descent, racial politics would always be at the forefront of my mind. Sexuality has also become a real theme – hardly surprising, since I have an interest in the subject and was poised at university to follow my Masters with a PhD on the feminist politics of hard core pornography. Anyone who has read The Girl Who Broke the Rules will know that fetishism, pornography and the sex industry are intrinsically linked to the main storyline, which involves the hunt for a brutal killer. Principally, however, an overarching theme for the series is trafficking.

Always a keen reader of world news, when I began writing, I realised that the trans-national traffick of drugs, people, weapons and even exotic animals had embedded itself in my subconscious. I was fascinated and horrified in equal measure by the tales of criminals’ subterfuge and victims’ suffering.  

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die deals principally with the illicit trade in drugs and movement of
women across borders as unpaid sex-workers. The book should throw up certain moral questions for readers. If a drug user buys heroine on the streets of the UK, does he/she give any thought to the fact that it has probably been grown in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan, lining the pockets of warlords? Growing poppies for heroine manufacture is more profitable for impoverished opium farmers than growing food crops, and only Russia seems to have an interest in destroying those crops.

We’re a nation of recreational drug takers. If you buy coke on the streets of the UK or US, do you realise that the countries of Central America act as a transit route for drugs traffickers, ensuring that violence and corruption in those poverty-stricken areas is endemic? Where there are drugs, there are arms, too, so the murder rate in affected countries is ludicrously high, with gang-membership supplanting family, and criminality becoming more attractive than pursuing education and employment. Corrupt governments suck dry financial resources that should be used to support the infrastructure of their countries, thereby exacerbating poverty in already poor communities. And if the first world drug-destination countries like the UK and US crack down on Class A drug imports, the traffickers must make their money from something else – women, children, slave labour, organ harvesting… If it turns a profit, it’s fair game.

The Girl Who Broke the Rules begins with a scene where a Somali prostitute is found eviscerated in Amsterdam’s red light district, but the book is decidedly not a slasher story, with women as victims of violent sexual predators. I chose to write about slave labour and the vulnerability of refugees and economic migrants from countries torn apart by civil war, such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Young Somali men, in particular, are very likely to get embroiled in criminal activity, once they have reached Europe. With little education and often, no support from elders, they make easy pickings for gangs.

Perhaps the most disquieting element of trans-national trafficking is the illicit movement of children across borders. It is this subject that I tackle in The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows - specifically highlighting the vulnerability of South Eastern Europe’s Roma communities, where young people, hoping for a better life and the prospect of work in other countries, can too easily become entrapped by traffickers as domestic slave labour or sex workers in Western European. The brothels and nail bars of the UK alone are populated by young women from Eastern Europe, the Far East and Africa, who leave their homes in the hope of securing legitimate paid work. Instead, they find themselves without passports, dependent on their human traffickers and forced to work for free to pay off a never-dwindling debt.

I hope I’ve created stories and characters that hold a mirror up to real life. I chose to write international thrillers, rather than domestic police procedurals, because crime knows no borders. Its terrible ingenuity is limitless. Where there’s a profit to be made, there are commodities to be trafficked. It’s a heart-breaking state of affairs, and we owe it to the victims of trafficking to educate ourselves – through good fiction, if you’re a fan of crime writing - about their plight and to avoid contributing to this exploitation of the world’s most vulnerable citizens.

The Girl Who Broke the Rules by Marnie Riches out now. (HarperCollins)

When the mutilated bodies of two sex-workers are found in Amsterdam, Chief Inspector van den Bergen must find a brutal murderer before the red-light-district erupts into panic.  Georgina McKenzie is conducting research into pornography among the UK’s most violent sex-offenders but once van den Bergen calls on her criminology expertise, she is only too happy to come running.  The rising death toll forces George and van den Bergen to navigate the labyrinthine worlds of Soho strip-club sleaze and trans-national human trafficking. And with the case growing ever more complicated, George must walk the halls of Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, seeking advice from the brilliant serial murderer, Dr. Silas Holm…

More information about Marnie Riches and her books an be found on her website.  You can also follow her on Twitter @Marnie_Riches and on Facebook.

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