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Tugga's Mob author fesses up to the weirdest thing he's ever written

Stephen Johnson

By Stephen Johnson

My first murder.

Thinking of sneaky ways to kill, without being caught, was a weird experience for a television news and sports producer. During my career, I encountered a few candidates for justifiable homicide – TV executives, politicians, businessmen – but no thoughts beyond that.

The daily news bulletins I produced regularly dealt with death: wars, famines, murders, accidents. It was at a distance, seen via the camera lens. Did I have the killer instinct to take a human life? In a literary sense.

My hitman skills didn’t extend beyond swatting flies and squashing mozzies. The speed and stealth of Antipodean pests at least gave them a fighting chance. Not so the victims in my debut novel – Tugga’s Mob. They had no warning their lives would be cut short in a few brutal paragraphs.

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The ‘80s provided two close encounters with mortality that I was able to draw upon. Both involved knives. The first was at my throat in Amsterdam. A fun night in a Red Light District bar in February ’86 was soured by a mugging in the icy streets. My mate and I were jumped by four men not far from our hotel. We were too casual as, through a dozen visits, there was always a police car parked near that point on the canal. Not that night. I lost 30 guilders and learned harsh lessons in security and terror.

The other experience was the aftermath of a stabbing – in the Melbourne workplace. It was Channel 7 in 1988. I was on the news desk when a call came through about an attack in reception. It sounded too incredible, but I mustered a camera operator – and then raced down to confirm for myself. It was true – a convicted murderer appearing on the Derryn Hinch current affairs program had been stabbed several times by a relative of his victim. It was bloody revenge at my feet.

Both incidents were still vivid enough to recall when writing my first crime novel. Someone had to die to make it a murder thriller. I had experienced how it could have happened to me. Little did I know the habit can be addictive. I wouldn’t call myself a serial killer, but seven bodies are taken to the morgue by the end of Tugga’s Mob.

Stephen Johnson is an Australian-born television news and sports producer who has swapped the studio for a writer’s garret overlooking the Tamaki Estuary in Auckland where he writes crime fiction.

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