North & South autumn 2020 (well it would have been autumn, except the publisher canned the magazine…)
Reviewed by Paul Little
In four previous volumes of stories Botur has claimed for himself a piece of literary territory occupied by the desperate, downtrodden and damned. He tells his tales in what would have been called an “amphetamine-fuelled” prose style until all suggestion of acquaintance with amphetamines became socially unacceptable. Let’s go for “breakneck” and “febrile” to describe the prose and accept that much of his characters’ behaviour remains socially unacceptable.
The title refers to one side of life in Christchurch, examined here through a cast of character who include Marty, a 17-year-old South African immigrant from the right side of the tracks drawn to the wrong side, along with his girlfriend, brother and associates of varying levels of psychopathy, including Jade, whose appetite for violence is prodigious.
The pages are strewn with episodes of graphic violence. What your reviewer knows about violence at first hand could be tattooed on the knuckles of one fist, but these scenes wring gut-wrenchingly true. It’s not so much a slice of life as a life of slicing.
Everyone is in some sort of mess from which they can’t extricate themselves, no matter their station or ambition. Ultimately the book is about cycles: of debt, of violence, of incarceration, of family dysfunction. The hidden connections between the characters, when revealed, reinforce this fatalist theme, although the conclusion does not necessarily do the same.
There’s humour too, including plenty of word play and some vicious farce, such as the scene in which the gang world crashes into the world of school mouth expos and country shows or that in which Afrikaans and street slang butt heads at a family dinner.
Don’t worry that you’ll miss the point – Alan Duff is here to explain it for you in an incongruous upfront Q&A with the writer. It no doubt adds some authorial collegiality to the enterprise. but the book doesn’t need it.
Crimechurch – review by Jeremy Roberts
Reading Michael Botur’s books brings you face-to-face with characters you are unlikely to find anywhere else in contemporary NZ fiction. Fiction rooted in the world of multicultural Kiwi scuzbuckets and hobnockers. The lowlife crim’ element if you’re struggling with those terms. Crimechurch is a story of redemption, though. It’s a page-turner, and famous Kiwi author Alan Duff has already recognised the originality of Botur’s writing.
Crimechurch – yes, set in Christchurch, is a literary novel that has doesn’t look to match Middleclass ‘woke’ values, which currently have the ear of the national media. These characters are far too busy living – often in the vortex-of-violence and crime, to give a toss about the Facebook newsfeed. They don’t need to research what to say at dinner parties, but they might nick your car, while you’re inside posing and passing off other people’s opinions as your own.
The book is a vivid, wild piece of imagination – or is it? It’s so convincingly written that you can’t help but wonder – maybe Mr Botur was born with a criminal mind and should probably be behind bars, along with these Punks, runaways, bikers, and losers.
Why Christchurch? People forgot, after the earthquakes – that Christchurch – ‘the 03’, was well-known for skinheads and thuggery. One of the earthquakes does feature in this novel, but only as background. Botur neatly inserts this. The characters that Botur has created would never be psychologically shattered by such an event. Life just goes on, dude.
Botur doesn’t waste a sentence. The reader is swept along, moment-by-moment – with fantastic, graphic descriptions of highly charged scenes, as the arc of the time-shifting story plays out, and all the characters meet Mr. Fate. The chapter headings have good, kick-ass titles – e.g. Set the playground on fire; The nicest jail Jadey’s ever been in; Ten thousand kays from Canterbury; Just try callin’ me Chink; Thank God my boy isn’t in trouble …
If you read this book, you will develop an intimate, informative, and entertaining relationship with Marty, Mona, Jade, Shayna, ‘King Kong’ Chong, Winston, and others. You’ll hope it becomes a Kiwi movie, too.
Michael Botur – our very own sub-woofing, thugged-out, technicolour-eyed, schizophrenic word man. Buy this book and support a talented writer.
Why the hell not?
Crimechurch: How to buy the book
Amazon.com print on demand paperback –
Kindle mobi to read Crimechurch by Michael Botur on your Kindle Fire
Kindle mobi – please use the contact form to purchase your epub
Crimechurch: Q&A Foreword
Crimechurch’s first edition included an interview with Alan Duff.
Sadly, Alan Duff sent this author a series of abusive messages in 2022, so we won’t be talking to one another in future. I will be removing Alan Duff’s interview, endorsement and foreword from future editions of Crimechurch and removing his name from any marketing I can.
Crimechurch: Why Kids From Humble Homes Demand Danger
by Michael Botur
Life in the safe suburbs of Christchurch isn’t dangerous enough for Marty. He needs excitement in punk, protest, politics and pipes.
Marty soon finds Mona, a teenage prostitute living in a flophouse of skinheads and goths. The two descend underground and live for drugs and dodgy deals.
Still, Marty and Mona are minnows. Out to eat them are psychopathic brother and sister Jade and Shayna.
Meanwhile, war has broken out amongst the bikers Marty and Mona depend on for dope. Fuelling the fight is ‘King Kong’ Chong, a thug determined to be Number One in the 03.
Swimming between the sharks is Winston, Marty’s baby brother. He may be a shrimp, but Winston has a plan to get himself a big reputation.
Being Bad Feels Fun
Crimechurch is narrated by characters whose lives offered them plenty of chances to stop causing trouble, but they chose to be bad anyway. Why? Cause it feels fun.
I trashed my hometown when I was younger through vandalism, sloppy drunken petty crime and fighting. Crimechurch makes art from the baggage I picked up back around 2002 when I was trying to barge my way into manhood.
I write inspired by a mixture of guilt over the wastefulness and pride in the risks I took. All that risk-taking was like exercise for Mikey’s mischievous side, though it was years before my sensitive, caring side was developed.
Back in the day, I saw some scary shit. My immediate friends didn’t get stabbed, shot, patched or imprisoned, but I was one degree away from people who did. Instead of running away or aspiring to live more responsibly, I saw the dating, drinking, drugs and drama and thought: Safety is boring. Let’s have some fun.
Sifting Through The Wreckage
Some memorable mayhem from the boyz in my hood:
+ Squirrel at my high school brought a baseball bat to smash a younger kid who’d bashed him and nearly started a race war
+Big Tony snapped a cue over his leg at a pool hall on Colombo Street when he needed an impromptu weapon for a rumble
+ One mate’s older bully brother – who taught us all how to fight – had a punchup in the Avon River with two guys (more than once)
+Trebe got into a 20 minute headlock with another guy in a Cashel Mall clash
+Goblin got punched through the driver side window of his Chrysler on Colombo Street, leaving him bloodied and covered in glass
+ Mr T smashed a redneck kid’s letterbox with a baseball bat, so the redneck kid’s older brother gave Mr T a hiding in the locker room
+Buck, age 15, had his face kicked in by a 13 year old gangsta
+ G. attacked his girlfriend’s dad, had regular punch-ups with the younger goons who hung out with him, got stomped by army boys out clubbing… email me if you want more anecdotes about this guy
The Code Of Honour
Young men love violence. Our code says that if somebody insults you, you should seek rough restitution. Your peers will admire you for it. Your ex-girlfriend has a new lover? Txt ’em some threats and set up a brawl. An insult comes your way from a passing car on Manchester Street? Bash ’em with a Jim Beam bottle at the traffic lights. Baycorp’s on your case cause you owe thousands of dollars? Why not run up some more debt to really get your money’s worth.
As Crimechurch argues, all the smashing and bashing can be easily walked away from – but where’s the fun in that? Sure any one of us could take up a quiet job and a quiet life in a quiet house with no debts, threats or regrets – but the cost is missing out on opportunities to explore your inner animal with some truly wild behaviour.
Plenty of people went all the way in terms of risk-taking. A number of peers from my community aren’t here to tell their tale. I can tell you about the aspiring athlete who hung himself; the handsome, witty man who chose to do home invasions and underworld debt collecting; the junkie skinheads whipping people with chains; the boys right now putting primer patches on for a smooth entry into the brotherhood of bikers.
White people problems?
One of the stereotypes of Christchurch is that it’s full of bothersome white people. But I didn’t get into trouble in Christchurch because I’m white. I got into trouble simply because I have a curious, mischievous and creative streak. I used my brains to think up naughtiness. For most people though, being short on money, hope and good influences is the main reason for getting into trouble. The city is post-industrial; career and comfort aren’t as assured as they once were. Where working class railways, warehouses, mining, shipping and farming collide with orchestras, art, tech and literature, that’s where people start shit. Crimechurch has it all – and earthquakes, too, of course.
The novel is a brief reunion between a promiscuous, lazy, impulsive, naive and immature 18 year old and the 34-year old man I’ve become – family-focused, creative, energetic and cultured.
The novel promises to be regretful yet unapologetic, raw and tender. Within the gritty lifestyles of my conflicted characters we’ll experience passion and pride, love and lament, guilt and guile.
I follow in the path of authors I admire who have a history of troublemaking. Will Self did dope on the prime minister’s plane. Alan Duff went to jail for running with a fraud gang. Irvine Welsh first got in trouble with the cops at age eight. Luke Davies spent the entire 80s as “a horrible and untrustworthy person full of hatred and resentment to the world because the world got in the way of me getting drugs.”
All these authors would agree: make art from dirt and you’re on the road to redemption.
It might sound like Crimechurch is me criticising the city. It’s nothing of the sort. I had a rich childhood in a city I’m still proud to call home. The novel is simply me looking back half a life later and saying ‘Holy shit – that was a close one.’
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