Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by stories of crime and punishment. I relish the excitement, of course, but I’m interested even more in the questions they raise about human psychology, man’s capacity for evil, and the problems and possibilities of public justice. For instance: What is it that makes a man into a monster? Does a retributive system adequately redress the wrong suffered by the victim? What if legal prosecution in incapable of producing a just result? Is there a moral role for vigilantism?
I read John Grisham’s A Time to Kill on the cusp of adolescence and was swept away by a story that kept the pages turning yet posed profound questions about the nature and limits of human justice. I felt the same way about Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent. My favorite novel of all time is Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, a story that has a crime of passion at its heart and poignantly explores one man’s struggle to harmonize his desire for revenge with his sense of personal honor.
When I conceived of my first novel A Walk Across the Sun, I set out to expose the pestilential underbelly of our globalized society—modern-day slavery. I wanted to write a compelling narrative—a page-turner—but I also wanted the story to provoke my readers to thought. I wanted them to ask: How is it possible that human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world? What does this say about human nature, commercial sex, the Internet, and the economics of globalization? In addition, I wanted to take the introspection a step further. I wanted my readers to consider what they (and we) can do to combat this global scourge.
I took a similar approach with my new novel The Garden of Burning Sand. The story revolves around the rape of an Zambian girl with Down syndrome and the quest by courageous lawyers to prosecute her powerful abuser. Violence against women is one of the world’s most pervasive crimes, transcending all national borders and cultural divides. It is especially virulent in parts of the world where patriarchal patterns have deep historical roots—where men consider it their right to dominate women. Garden explores whether justice is possible in such a context and offers an answer that personalizes the issue for readers in the developed world. Justice is not a resource-neutral proposition. It can’t happen if the good guys lack the basic tools of policing and prosecution. If we care about global development, we need to take a hard look at what we’re doing—and not doing—to support public justice systems in places like Zambia.
If I may be permitted to recast an old saying, inhumanity and exploitation prevail when good people do nothing. The characters in my stories (like the real-life heroes I’ve met in my research) take action to overcome these evils. The ultimate question I hope my readers ask is this: What can we do to help them?
THE GARDEN OF BURNING SAND by Corban Addison is published by Quercus, hardback £16.99.