What is crime? Breaking the law is, but there is a sliding scale of how much transgression really constitutes a crime. Breaking the speed limit is perhaps ignoring idiotic laws. Some drivers are safer at ninety miles per hour than others at thirty.
There is no crime fiction without crime; it is the age-old conflict between good and evil, and conflict is what makes good stories. Law abiding citizens are extremely boring; readers like to have a hero who operates outside the accepted norm of good behaviour. They are exciting characters, but it is best if their victims do not have to suffer unduly.
Robin Hood was a loveable rogue who robbed the rich to give to the poor. His law breaking exploits made him a hero. What if he had robbed the poor to pay the rich; would he have been just as popular? His crimes were committed to right social injustices and nobody sympathised with his victims, because they were rich.
Robbing the rich could be thought of as a victimless crime, particularly if the robbed person is a disagreeable character. If a starving but talented artist sells forgeries of old masterpieces at outrageous prices to collectors with more money than taste, that can be considered as delivering some kind of poetic justice. The rich victims are not even aware that a crime was committed, and the old masters are dead and buried anyway. They are not bothered and their reputation may even be enhanced if the forger is any good.
Who is the victim if one sells buried artefacts from a long lost civilisation? Perhaps the state, but where was the Italian Republic when the Etruscans lost their tableware? Finders keepers, or so it should be. Forged antiquities belong to this category, as nobody knows what is authentic or not.
Moving to the twenty-first century, certain cyber crimes can be seen as victimless. If a genius hacker instructs a bank to transfer the written off decimal fractions to the account of a certain Mr Zzwybecky, who is the loser? The bank’s and account holders’ books balance, while the one thousandth pennies grow into millions of pounds. Nobody is the wiser and nobody loses anything, the only thing that can go wrong is that if there is an actual Mr Zzwybecky who happens to hold an account with the same bank. He will wonder where all that money came from.
Antal Kovács was born in Ferencváros, Budapest on 6th June 1940. His father was a cabinetmaker, called up to the army and seconded to the Ganz railway works to help with the war effort. His mother was often away from home for days, scouring the countryside and bartering the family valuables for food. Antal was just old enough to experience and remember the Second World War. He spent almost a year in the coal cellar of a tenement building in order to escape the American and British bombs that rained on the city. He started school in 1946 and spent the most repressive years of Stalinist rule in the local primary school. In 1954 he went to the Apáczai Csere János Gimnázium, one of the best grammar schools in town. Antal had an independent spirit and resisted the communist indoctrination in school and decided to be a full free market capitalist when he was fifteen. He was always amongst the top five in class, but his main interests were basketball, supporting the Ferencváros football team, dealing in jazz records, jitterbugging and writing surrealist poems. He knew then that he was destined to be a writer. He was anything but the model socialist cadre the regime tried to mass-produce, however, he was the treasurer of the Young Communist League.
Antal left Hungary on 23rd November 1956, exactly a month after the Hungarian Revolution started. To leave his beloved Ferencváros was an impetuous decision, but he has no regrets. Initially, life was hard for him in the Free West. To Antal’s great disappointment, the streets were not paved with gold. His first job was in a Lyons Teashop in Luton as a back-shop porter. He soon moved to London and progressed to being a commis waiter in the Piccadilly Hotel. In 1958 he received a grant from the GLC and managed to complete his studies at the Westminster College of Commerce. He was hoping to go to university, but failed his Latin A Level. A number of mindless jobs followed. He took to them all with energy and convinced himself that it did not matter what the work was, he was collecting material for his first novel. He drifted into the rag trade as a stock and pattern cutter and studied dress design at St Martin’s School of Art.
He spent the summer of 1962 in Spain and wrote his first novel, Venom Numb. Returning to London he tried to find a publisher without much success. A kind literary agent advised Antal to find work in the film industry. According to her, there was nothing wrong with his stories and observations, only his English let him down. It was sound advice and he went to study at the London School of Film Technique. He completed the course in the spring of 1964. He spent the summer in Cornwall and worked as a lifeguard on Hayle beach. That was his best job to date, but as he was itching to get into the film industry, he returned to London in October. He got into the ACTT, the exclusive film trade union, by working as a trainee printer at Filmatic Laboratories. It took him three months to get his membership application accepted.
Antal managed to get a job as an assistant film editor for Athos Films, in Soho Square. He was soon promoted to film editor. Later, he went freelance as an assistant director on feature films. The British film industry was booming during the sixties and Antal was never out of work either as an editor or an assistant director. He was fortunate enough to work on a number of films that turned into cult movies, like The Italian Job, Blow Up, and the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.
In 1970 he went to Australia and he worked in Sydney for two years on commercials as a director and film editor. He started writing again, mostly scripts for corporate films that he also directed. He received a grant from the Australian Experimental Film Fund and made a thirty minute short film (35mm), The Samaritan Kind. The film received critical acclaim at the Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals and later it was released as a supporting feature to On The Buses throughout Australia. It even made a profit.
He returned to England in 1972 and joined the BBC on various contracts as an assistant producer, director and film editor on short-term contracts. As a writer and director he was responsible for a number of corporate and training films and videos. During this period he started to write feature film scripts and proposals for television drama series. From 1989 to 1992, he lived in the south of France and Rome and he wrote three novels: Impressions, Brothers Anonymous and A Matter of Theft. On his return to London he carried on freelancing as a scriptwriter and film editor. Later he spent two years working as a lecturer in post-production at the London International Film School.
Antal moved to Penzance in 1997, and lectured on scriptwriting at Penwith College, Cornwall College, and at Falmouth College of Arts. In 2002 Antal wrote and directed the first Cornish language feature film, Hwerow Hweg. The film was premiered in the House of Commons and it attracted a lot of media attention at the time. Hwerow Hweg was selected for the Montreal World Film Festival in August 2002, and it was also Cornwall’s entry for the Celtic Film and Television Festival in April 2003. Its English version, Bitter Sweet opened the Vilnius Spring 2004 Film Festival in Lithuania.
Antal gave up lecturing in May 2004 in order to concentrate on writing thrillers in his favourite genre – the art forgery caper. In October 2005 he moved to Lostwithiel. He re-wrote his three novels and Impressions was published by Athena Press in June 2006.
He also finished the first part of his autobiography, Free at Last, then in 2008 the second part, The Downside of Paradise. Currently he is working on the third part, All or Nothing.
He lived in Italy for four years from 2007 in Orvieto, and wrote the definitive guide to Umbrian wines, The Wines of Umbria, published by Amazon as a Kindle book in September 2012.