TRUE-LIFE CRIME
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LIFE

Book review: Behind the Door: The Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp Story, by Mandy Wiener and Barry Bateman

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 December, 2014, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 December, 2014, 10:39pm

Behind the Door: The Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp Story
by Mandy Wiener and Barry Bateman
Macmillan

Everyone has an opinion on Oscar Pistorius, even those who had no clue as to who he was before that tragic day in 2013 when he shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. "He's a maniac," stated a friend. "He's just an a**hole," said another. "It was roid-rage," a wag confirmed on my favourite internet chatroom. A gentleman, said another friend. A true hero.

Everyone seemed to know exactly what happened on that fateful night. But only one man knows that, and what he told the police - and the story he has maintained from minutes after the tragedy - was that it was a terrible accident.

As a South African, I was riveted by the trial. The double amputee had become a world hero when he competed in the Paralympics, first in Beijing, and then in London where he also competed against able-bodied athletes in the Olympics. And then, just as he seemed to have it all, and for no apparent reason, Pistorius shot Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day, 2013.

The news was as divisive as it was devastating as South Africans tried to make sense of what they were hearing about the golden boy. Pistorius admitted shooting Steenkamp, but claimed he had mistaken her for a intruder. He shot her four times through a locked bathroom door. Everyone was sad for him, horrified for Steenkamp's family. But then the state charged him with murder.

The news exploded across world news media like the firing of a starter's pistol. And it just kept going. It was a made-for-movie story of a glamorous couple that ended in utter heartbreak. Now the books have fired up the printing presses.

As the drama unfolded, debates raged about abuse of women, South Africa's crime rate, gun culture and police bungling, and whether Pistorius was going to get away with murder. In the end he was convicted of culpable homicide in a judgment that is under appeal. What was thought, what was known and what was able to be proved were not congruent.

The fascinating case is captured by journalists Mandy Wiener and Barry Bateman in Behind the Door. They give us insights that were unavailable at the time and colour in the back-story of the main players. People who had done badly in the witness box are offered redemption now that the madness is over.

The book also answers questions about South African law - that ignorance of the law can be a defence - and gives visceral and detailed information that will be appreciated by those who want to know. But others might find it TMI. It's chock-full of details, facts, pernickety points that some might find irritating. It has obviously been rushed to press, but that doesn't detract from its ability to home in on points that people have been wondering about.

Anyone who is a fan of true-life crime will find this book fascinating. As the spotlight was turned full blast on South Africa's justice system, warts and all, it became evident that there never would be a satisfactory answer.

Pistorius admits he killed Steenkamp. So this is not a whodunit. It's a whyhedunnit. The question then becomes one of culpability. Who should be blamed, if anyone, for the beautiful life being cut so brutally short? Can we believe Pistorius when he says that he had no intention to kill when he fired those four bullets into that confined space?

This is not a tale that can be slotted in between adverts to fill an hour of screen time. Just like it went down in real life, the book follows each twist in the saga. One moment it seems he was guilty, the next moment he seems innocent, then it seems impossible to believe him but there is nothing to counter his story.

The only thing is for sure, there is no fairy-tale ending.