The move from prosecutor to writer has been interesting for Chris Marnewick.
And his experience with the South African justice system has influenced his work as an author.
Mr Marnewick came to New Zealand in 1999, working at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies before starting on his first novel Shepherds and Butchers.
"When we first came to New Zealand, we fell in love with the place. It's a paradise," the Bucklands Beach man says.
"At the institute I was writing a litigation skills textbook but in 2002 I began researching for what would become Shepherds and Butchers."
He spent years on the book and had to gather case records and death penalty registers but it was almost by chance that he found one of his best sources.
"My wife's nephew was a law student in South Africa at the time I was researching the book and he came across a prison warden who had worked on death row as an 18- year-old.
"On his second day he accompanied a man to the gallows. He stood next to him as they put the rope around his neck and dropped him.
"It sounds cold and clinical but it really got me interested in the humanity of it. What does it do to someone when you're asking them to help execute a person?
"A novel allows you to have a go at what you see as monsters. I had a go at the death penalty and the way it was applied in South Africa."
Shepherds and Butchers was shortlisted for a number of prizes and won the K Sello Duiker Memorial Literary Award for best English work at the 2010 South African Literary Awards and the University of Johannesburg's 2009 prize for best debut work of creative writing.
"Creative non-fiction is a difficult genre and I'm astonished by how well Shepherds has done," Mr Marnewick says.
"I think I was almost destined to write this book because of where I grew up and the experiences I had. I wanted to use a novel to show what had been happening under a cloak of secrecy."
His next two books, The Soldier Who Said No and Sailor's Honour, focus on Pierre de Villiers, a character from Shepherds and Butchers now a New Zealand policeman.
The Soldier Who Said No revolves around the character refusing to obey an order to shoot someone and what the system does to him as a result.
Sailor's Honour begins with the abduction of a girl in the Bucklands Beach area. Mr Marnewick says the books are about the ethics, morality and psychology around killing.
"I try to explore what people would do in these situations. What would I do? What would the reader do? The soldier refuses to shoot someone but what would happen if the matter became personal? What would he do if his family was threatened? Could he overcome his inhibition against killing? What are the ethics and morality surrounding the matter?"
His latest book is an Afrikaans work Clarence Van Buuren: Die man agter die donkerbril (Clarence Van Buuren: The Man Behind the Dark Glasses) which takes an in-depth look at the 1956 murder of 18-year-old Joy Aken by salesman Clarence Van Buuren and the discovery of her body by a psychic.
The case generated huge interest in South Africa and Mr Marnewick analyses the evidence presented at the trial and materials collected by a journalist.
"There are letters between the journalist and Van Buuren when he was on death row as well as original police statements," he says.
"There were so many little coincidences that led me to writing this book. I can remember being sent to buy the paper when Van Buuren received the death sentence and I remember seeing the place where he would be hanged.
"While I was researching the book I asked my father-in-law what he remembered about the case and it turned out he had been the interpreter for some of the Zulu witnesses."
Mr Marnewick will work on two legal textbooks for publication next year. But after writing two books about Pierre de Villiers, he is finding it hard to let the character go.
"I get asked what's going to happen to him but I don't quite know yet.
"He feels almost like family now and I've got a plot outline in mind for the next one."
Shepherds and Butchers, The Soldier who said No and Sailor's Honour are available through amazon.com.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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