Author Andrea Mara“People don’t understand why you  would spend all your time sitting at your laptop trying to solve cold cases.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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If you’ve ever wondered if an owl could fly into a house and kill an adult woman while her husband sipped wine in the garden, or if a teacher really did bury his wife under a swimming pool, or if you know what the Nisha call is, then you’re probably a true crime addict and possibly fancy yourself as a bit of an armchair detective. Oliver Callan and novelist Andrea Mara bonded over their fondness for series like Netflix’s The Stairs and cold-case murder podcasts like Teacher’s Pet and Serial on this morning’s Ryan Tubridy Show.

Andrea’s latest novel The Sleeper Lies is the story of a woman who obsessively follows murder cases online from inside her snowbound Wicklow cottage:

“It’s like a secret hobby. She lives on her own in the middle of nowhere in Wicklow and she works from home as well, so she spends a lot of time on her own. But she’s also an amateur sleuth or armchair detective and she doesn’t really like to talk about it, because people don’t understand why you  would spend all your time sitting at your laptop trying to solve cold cases; it sounds bizarre.”

In a world where cold-case murder stories are carefully unspooled in narratives more closely resembling fiction than hard news, both Andrea and Oliver were keen to highlight the dangers of glamorising perpetrators at the expense of victims and their relatives. Andrea says some true crime podcasts are hard to listen to:

“I do often think, oh my God, I really hope no relatives of the victims are listening to this. Now I assume if somebody has been through something awful like that they are not listening to podcasts on cold cases. Definitely there were episodes of My Favourite Murder where I switched off, because I was like, no, this is too much, especially anything involving kids.”

Andrea cites some of the rare examples where information passed on to police by true crime addicts actually resulted in arrests. She says genetic information uploaded to family tree websites has also led to at least one important arrest. Joseph James deAngelo was charged in the decades-old Golden State Killer case in the U.S. when a data scientist cracked the case using a service which compared information from several genealogy websites:

“They used one of those called GEDmatch to upload a DNA profile of a suspect from a crime scene and they got a match, and that’s how they found the guy. So be careful what you’re putting in these DNA databases, in case you’ve committed a long ago crime that you’ve forgotten about.”

The inevitable question arose about why so many of us so readily consume content about such gruesome events? Andrea thinks we’re watching and listening to help us avoid these things happening to us:

“It’s a kind of self-protection, like this magical thinking, self-defence. If we’re reading about it or watching it or listening to it, in a way we’re warding off evil… There’s a kind of rationale to it, that if you know why something happened or how it happened, you can say ‘well that couldn’t happen to me because I would not leave my child alone at night’ or ‘I wouldn’t walk into the woods in the middle of the night’, so you kind of protect yourself that way.”

You can find out more about Andrea’s latest novel as well as more on the real-world incidents where podcasts led to arrests in cold-case murders in Oliver Callan’s full interview with Andrea Mara here.

The Sleeper Lies by Andrea Mara is published by Poolbeg Press on the 6th of February.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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