I’d just turned forty, and was in London to celebrate when I met up with editor Maxim Jakubowski who’d published some of my short stories in his Mammoth Book of Erotica series. He’d been commissioned to produce a crime novel series and suggested I try writing him something. As I‘d moved to Germany years before and had become fascinated with the local legend, Fritz Haarmann, instinctively I had to write about him. He remains Germany’s most notorious serial killer and was executed in 1925 for the murders of at least twenty-four young men. What was for me more interesting was that unlike a lone serial killer like Dennis Nielsen, he was a killer in the Fred West mode, congenial with an attractive live-in lover, Hans Grans. As Haarmann allegedly killed and chopped up his victims in an insanely small room with no running water, the clean-up after the killings would have been a logistical nightmare. I wanted to understand the unbearable excitement he must have felt in order to do what he did. Writer Theodore Lessing described in detail how Haarmann cut the bodies up in order to transport them in a bucket. Haarmann said, “I always hated doing this, but I couldn’t help it – my passion was so much stronger than the horror of the cutting and chopping.”
All serial killers are motivated by lustmord, but crime writers usually depict the crime as a fait accompli they show you the how and not the why. As an erotic writer, it was perfectly natural for me to want to articulate Haarmann’s desire. The irony of the story is that despite his heinous crimes, Haarmann’s earthy hunter’s instincts seem positively natural compared to his partner Hans Grans’ devious organ trafficking schemes. The real Fritz Haarmann allegedly sold his victims meat as sausages and their clothes, but these days that wouldn’t make money. Crime is big business it’s no longer about one man’s compulsions. In Night Driver Hans Grans wants to put the victims into an artificial coma so that their organs can be type matched and sold which sets him on a collision course with the more instinctive killing impulses of the Haarmann character.
One of the most interesting facts about the real life case was that Hans Grans was bisexual and had three women Dora Mrutzek, Elfriede Zwingmann and Elfriede Zwingmann who prostituted themselves for him, often out of Haarmann’s tiny room. It made the fact that they didn’t know anything about the killings totally implausible. It was fascinating just trying to articulate the complex relationship that must have developed between these five characters. The heart of my story is about jealousy, rivalry and betrayal.
Editors have criticised my work for being too dark, Night Driver focuses on one of the worst practices in human nature: organ trafficking, but it’s not something invented by me, sadly it’s one of the world’s fastest growing crime. It might make uncomfortable reading, but it’s happening right now and deserves more attention. If I’d chosen to focus on the victims the novel would have been even darker, but I was most interested was the fascinating dynamics of the perpetrators.
Night Driver is published by Urbane