Had the eclectic public which filled Central City Library's Whare Wānanga earlier this month come to hear Finlay Macdonald interviewed by Steve Braunias, as the publicity had seemed to announce and Finlay picked up on in his opening gambit? No worries. I was there -- I'm not a "horrible trout" wont to pronounce without first hand experience, to borrow one of Steve's colourful animal kingdom descriptors which he used on the night -- and I can attest that the only thing threatening to upstage Steve Braunias was the lure of the subject of his new book The scene of the crime.
The book, which developed out of Steve's reporting from a dozen notorious trials for variously heinous crimes, is not actually a study of the criminal mind, despite the book being placed in the true crime area of the library collections. As the title suggests, what he repeatedly found himself most interested in was the places. "It's impossible and pointless to try to put yourself in the mind of a killer", he says in the book, "but the setting takes you to the scene of the crime, shows you something about New Zealand".
In this way, it is indeed, as he pointed out, a companion to Civilisation, his wonderful and prize-winning (2013 New Zealand Post Book Award for General Non-fiction) stories evoking "twenty places on the edge of the world", and not its flip side, as one might be inclined to think.
Yesterday I was told that Steve Braunias has referred to himself as "the poor man's Martin Edmond". He does himself a disservice. They are both fine writers, of two different moulds: off the top of my head I'd say Martin Edmond is more Whitmanesque, the long lyrical cadences, the transcendencies, the bare feet and bare-stript heart; and Steve Braunias, more of a rascal and more of a realist, indignant and contrarian but also a lover of whimsy, would be more of a Mark Twain. Or maybe I mean Tom Sawyer.
No trace of Tom Sawyer in Finlay Macdonald, whose smooth and capable interviewing remained happily free of the cronyism which so often mars "in conversations" between friends. One of my favourites among his questions: does Steve Braunias, with over ten years under his belt now of hearing evidence of people doing horrific things to other people, believe in evil?
Stream the podcast to hear the answer to this and many other interesting questions. Either listen via Soundcloud below or search for "Auckland Libraries" in iTunes or on your favourite podcast app to download the episode.
Oh, nearly forgot: have you seen our new Auckland Libraries Top 100? The scene of the crime is there, along with 99 other reading suggestions, including one from Steve Braunias.