I don't think I've ever come up with a brilliant murder method. In eight and a first draft mysteries my murders have been:
- baroque to the point of insanity (first novels: never knowingly underwritten)
- only available to murder one specific person in a small town (my home town) on one Friday every August (which isn't that handy really)
- [the concept album]
- preposterous (hey, why set a book in a circus and then just shoot someone?)
- even more preposterous (with less of an excuse, mind you)
- preposterous's mad uncle who lives in the attic (why did I start this?)
- possible. Woo-hoo! (But not these days with mobile phones and CCTV)
- preposterous (and disgusting - my darker period begins)
- ask me later
In Kate Atkinson''s new one Life After Life (click), the only possible exception comes up. If I could time-travel back to 1930s Germany I might well pre-emptively kill Hitler, to save 15,000,000 others. I'd pre-emptively kill Osama Bin Laden too actually. If I could time travel. On the other hand, the one time I did write a time-travel caper it wasn't called Kill Hitler. I called it Save Elvis. Which tells you a lot about me.
But back to evil mass-murdering psycopaths and why I wouldn't punish them with death after the fact. It's because in my personal philosophy, this life is all there is and being dead doesn't hurt enough. If you don't have any supernatural beliefs then being dead is no worse than not being born yet. I was absolutely fine for millenia before 1965, a state of pain-free non-existence I think is too good for evil people. Of course, they'll get there in the end but I wouldn't help them.
If you believe in hell, I can see why killing Hitler and Bin Laden would be an excellent idea. But if you believe in redemption for all then executing a monster just fast-tracks him to the good bit - like taking away a toddler's meat and potatoes and letting her go straight to cake. I've always wondered about that. I've always wondered too, for the same reason, why devout believers think murdering a good person is bad. If you're ushering them into a life of eternal paradise, then . . .
I think the most fit punishment is to make someone accept what they've done and accept the suffering they've caused. Then they live with themselves. That's my idea of vengeance. If I try to get my moral ducks in a row, the next step is atonement and forgiveness. All three together pretty much underpin the "crime" part of the African system of Ubuntu (click) which is what allowed the awesome era of truth and reconciliation in South Africa after the end of apartheid. I remember being blown away by the Black South Africans' ability to forgive and move on, and the White South Africans' ability to face their own acts, lay them down and walk on, without debilitating guilt. They really are useless at festering.
In a culture of vengeance-based or payment-based justice like ours the TRC could never have happened. I remember a radio programme on the BBC years ago when a Northern Irish combatant (I can't remember what side he was from) was faced with a post-apartheid South African describing Ubuntu and was totally unable to comprehend it. He got pretty close to saying that the Irish Troubles were too severe and South Africa had had it easy. He stopped himself just in time, I'm glad to say, and I always wondered if they chatted off-air and what came of it.
So, in conclusion, killing people is not for me. And I wish Ubuntu was what South Africa exported, instead of diamonds. It outshines them any day.