And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac Penguin Classics, HK$192 When Lucien Carr killed his former lover David Kammerer in a New York park in August 1944, little could he have known the two men to whom he confided his crime would one day become the greatest storytellers of their generation. Carr's confidants were Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, who in the late 1950s pioneered the Beat movement. But in 1944, their failure to inform the authorities of Carr's crime resulted in their arrest as accessories after the fact to murder. Both were later released without charge, while Carr served a two-year prison sentence for first-degree manslaughter. At the time of the killing, Kerouac and Burroughs, together with Carr, Kammerer and a young aspiring poet named Allen Ginsberg, formed an artsy clique of Columbia and Harvard drop-outs based in New York. Kammerer's killing was a transformative experience for Kerouac. Barely a year later he began writing the first chapter of a book dealing with the episode. Burroughs, by contrast, was more interested in feeding his morphine addiction but somehow, Kerouac cajoled him into the project. This collaboration resulted in the bizarrely titled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks; the title was said to have come from a radio news story heard by Burroughs about a fire at a zoo. Failing to find a publisher in 1945, the book is only now seeing the light of day. Hippos is a thinly veiled fictionalisation of the Kammerer killing: Carr is portrayed as 17-year-old Philip Tourian, Kammerer is faithfully rendered as 30-something Ramsay Allen and the killing now takes place on a rooftop. Kerouac and Burroughs adopt the alter egos of merchant seaman Mike Ryko and bartender Will Dennison to narrate, in alternating chapters, the weeks leading up to the death. The plot follows precisely the real-life events, but it was not the authors' intention to transpose the story of Carr and Kammerer's tense sexual relationship into a suspenseful true-crime work. Rather, Hippos falls within the genre of existential fiction, with Kerouac and Burroughs meditating on literature, life and death through their fascinating real-life experiences - an autobiographical method that would become a Beat trademark. Befitting the existential fiction genre, the authors evoke a vivid mood of ennui in hedonistic wartime New York and introduce a cast of hard-drinking, drug-using characters at odds with the essentially conservative American society in which they live. Hippos is a fascinating artefact of the Beat generation that bears few signs of the future greatness of these two authors. These clues are imperceptible in Kerouac's evenly written chapters. Surprisingly, it is in Burroughs' often poorly written sections that the novella's few flashes of stylistic brilliance occur.