April 20, 2015

Irish serial killer memoir is almost definitely a hoax


The U2 song is better.

The U2 song is probably better than this.

It’s been nine years since James Frey admitted that A Million Little Pieces got billed as a memoir because he couldn’t get it sold as a novel. Nine! That’s enough time for an entire person to be born, grow up, and graduate the third grade. But we’re an innovative society, and if there’s one thing we’ve gotten quicker at doing in those nine years, it’s revealing literary hoaxes.

Take, for example, Numb: Diary Of A War Correspondent,  released by Irish publisher Liberties Press in early March of this year. It’s got about as salacious a pitch as one can imagine; here’s how it’s described on the publisher’s website.

Numb thrusts us into the memoir of Alan Buckby*, as told in his own words.  A war correspondent for more than two decades, he led a double life, appearing to be a regular family man while at home in London, but immersed in sadism and depravity while on overseas assignments. He didn’t just document the violence – he became directly involved in it.

(…) Buckby died in 2014 and it was then that his wife Kay discovered his secrets in his diaries and notebooks. Working with a ghost writer,  she reconstructed her husband’s real life.  This book is the result.

* Author’s name has been changed to protect the identity of his family.

Wow! That’s incredible! What a find! It’s not often that we get such a glimpse in the mind of a depraved, remorseless perpetrator of incredible acts of violence (with some exceptions). The pseudonymous ghostwriter, “Louis La Roc” (really) has given interviews to promote the book, and has written about it in a suspiciously grandiose fashion for someone who claims to be just a messenger.

How do I explain bringing such horrors to life in a book? Easy. A bricklayer lays blocks, a chicken lays eggs and I pen words. We all deliver and get paid. Who am I to judge another person’s life? Does a bricklayer judge an architect’s work? I never met Buckby. He died in October 2014. I simply put his dairies together. I live in grey. I’m a blurry sort. I mean, the judgment call: do I take the job or pass? If I didn’t take the ghostwriting job another ghostwriter would have.

So it should come to zero surprise that Numb’s amazing backstory is starting to fall apart. The Irish Times reports that Louis La Roc is in fact a writer named Colin Carroll, who in a 2010 interview states that he wrote the book himself—as a novel.

Carroll, described as an “adventurer, novelist and solicitor”, states that he has written a novel called Numb, which is doing the rounds of various London publishers.

“The concept for the novel came to me in Dubrovnik two summers ago when I went there for a week’s holidays,” Carroll told the newspaper. “I was disturbed at how the war had been glossed over.”

He also said he had completed “seven or eight chapters” of the book, which was about a London war journalist.

“It scares me to think that I could write such a book and about such a subject,” he told the Avondhu in 2010.

When confronted with this damning bit of information, Liberties Press stuck with the time-honored “yeah, but still” defense.

Sean O’Keeffe of Liberties Press stated that the publisher “stood over” Numb as a memoir, although he acknowledged that the publisher had not seen any of the book’s source material.

In a further interview with The Irish Times two days ago, O’Keeffe reiterated his belief that Liberties Press had not been misled, but also stated that, as a publisher rather than a newspaper, the company didn’t have “a responsibility to report the news in an accurate way”.

Setting aside the fact that a publisher which bills itself as “Ireland’s leading independent publisher of nonfiction titles of Irish and international interest” just sacrificed any possible journalistic credibility they had so they could continue publishing a Bret Easton Ellis knockoff as a memoir, this isn’t surprising news. The “Alan Buckby” character of the book isn’t very well disguised at all; if he was real, then it would be a very short time before law enforcement figured out who he was, putting Carroll and the publisher in a legal quagmire over what evidence they possessed or withheld.

It’s extremely hard to keep information like that quiet; a book’s production process is so drawn-out that any proprietary manuscripts require a huge mechanism of embargoes and NDAs to keep the content hidden before publication, and even those don’t always work.

Either Liberties Press is trying to cut these costs by simply publishing a novel with the true crime label slapped on, or they simply doesn’t understand the fundamental concept of vetting. Either way, trying to sustain a shaky mystery for marketing purposes in the age of omni-archivalism is impossible and foolish, and no amount of anodyne corporate statements in which they stand behind this book will change that.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.