Peter Robins

  • Depraved Indifference by Gary Indiana
    HarperCollins, 336 pp, US $24.95, January 2002, ISBN 0 06 019726 9

Some years ago, Gary Indiana visited Eurodisney, and returned with a suggestion for how it could be improved. ‘If I ran an amusement park,’ he wrote, ‘there would be real pirates and gypsies and an authentic criminal element on hand to supply a sense of risk.’ He constructs fiction on the same principle. His early works featured characters designed to resemble his past lives and former friends: a New York art critic in obsessive love (Horse Crazy); an American who acted in European art films (Gone Tomorrow). His fourth and fifth novels both contained accounts of real multiple murders, along with real bondage, real child abuse and real drugs. Depraved Indifference, his sixth, offers you a wider range of true-life attractions: four real murders, as you’d expect, and a probably-real case of incest; but also a houseful of real antiques, and a heroine who really does look like Elizabeth Taylor.

Call it Indiana for beginners. The previous books have added to their allure by an aggressive approach to some of the last few taboos: gay sex (particularly when allied to violence and/or manipulation); violence (particularly when allied to manipulation and/or sex); scatology. In Depraved Indifference, the sex is straight (if nasty), the violence is delayed, and the shit is more or less tidied away. Nothing really gruesome happens for at least the first hundred pages. Still, there’s plenty of reality. Depraved Indifference is not a transcript, or even a conventional roman à clef, but you are rarely more than a paragraph from some recognisable detail of the trial it was based on, and hardly ever in the presence of a fact that is incontestably made up. If you think that Evangeline, Warren and Devin Slote are silly names for a family of villains, you must remember that their originals are the even less plausible-sounding Sante, Kenneth and Kenny Kimes. If you think it a bit much to have them arrested on slavery charges and then carrying on as if nothing has happened, or to have their scams involve Gerald Ford and Pat Nixon, or to have the man who sells them illegal guns explain how to make a silencer from a potato, you must consider that all these things come straight from the Kimes family archive. And so may anything else. Somewhere in Las Vegas, there may actually be a car salesman who was once a ventriloquist. His dummy may really be called Joe McCarthy, and he may really be planning a comeback as a hip-hop act. His name may have been omitted from my cuttings. I can’t rule it out. I know that Indiana has bumped off at least one still-living character, and I am almost sure that Irene Silverman, the original of his lead murder victim, was never a synchronised swimmer. Beyond that, any of it could be true. Depraved Indifference is tangled and implausible, cruel and entertaining – but so were the reports of the Kimes case.

The reports began early in July 1998, soon after Irene Silverman disappeared. Silverman was 82, a rich and semi-famous New York landlady. Kenny Kimes had been renting a room from her, under a false name, and his mother, Sante, had been staying with him, pretending to be his employee. They had been engaged in an elaborate plan to steal Silverman’s apartment building. They were arrested the day Silverman disappeared, for buying a car with a bad cheque, and held for most of the next two years on fraud charges, while the authorities prepared to try them for murder.

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