The French translation may well be an opportunity to discover the book for those who missed the affair at the time. The torso was discovered exactly 10 days after 9/11, and, in France at least, the affair went relatively unnoticed. Richard Hoskins’s involvement in the case was personal from the start. Lecturing on African religion at the time, he was contacted by the London Metropolitan Police to help solve the mystery of Adam’s demise. But the book he wrote 10 years later (Adam’s murderers have yet to be brought to justice), is in fact a personal journey and Hoskins sets the scene in the opening chapters of the book : « if Adam could be laid to rest, then so could my own ghosts. Couldn’t they? »
Investigating Adam’s murder brought Hoskins 15 years back to the days when, a young newly-wed idealist, he established himself with his wife for a few months in the Congo (the couple ended up staying a full 6 years). Sue Hoskins became pregnant and gave birth to identical twin girls. The first was still-born but the second, little Abigail, survived. Hoskins and his wife had overcome the death of their other twin daughter when Hoskins was approached one afternoon by Tata Mpia, a local carpenter. The man claimed he too was a twin whose elder brother had died. He spoke of the living dead and told Hoskins Abigail’s elder twin was calling her « to join her in the shadowlands ». To prevent the impending death of Abigail, Hoskins, Tata Mpia instructed, should visit the nganga (witch doctor) and sacrifice an animal. Though disturbed by the man’s prophecy, Hoskins did no such thing. As a « Westerner », he tells us today, this was « a line (he) didn’t want to cross ».
Shortly after Tata Mpia’s visit, Abigail died of a fever. It is this traumatic encounter with death and witchcraft in the Congo that Hoskins was drawn back to in his investigation of Adam’s murder. The investigation in itself was clearly a turning-point as Hoskins moved on to become a novelist and a famous criminologist. He no longer considers himself an academic although he still lectures on occasion.
Interestingly enough, The Boy in the River, opens with a quotation of W. B. Yeats’s The Second Coming :
« Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… » 1
And indeed, Hoskins interprets the growing number of cases of exorcism or human sacrifice he describes in his book against the backdrop of globalization, of a world where « the centre cannot hold » and where « things fall apart ». The belief in ndoki (withcraft) is widespread in West Africa and is fuelled by the growing numbers of « pop-up » fundamentalist Christian churches. To quote from an article published in The Guardian in June 2005, « … in a country that has been deeply traumatised by war, disease and corruption, (…) one of the few growth industries is Pentecostal churches, which are offering salvation after years of bloodshed.” 2
In an interview he gave to Italian journalists in Rome on October 29th 1974, Jacques Lacan foretold the « Triumph of Religion ». « Science, Lacan declared, is going to introduce such earth-shattering things that religion is going to be needed to make sense of them ». For the power of religion stems from its ability to « clean up » after the advances of science, from its ability to deliver and invent meaning as an answer to the Real. In the words of Jacques-Alain Miller « The more dysfunctional things get, the more help we see coming from the fields of meaning » (« Au fur et à mesure que ça dysfonctionne, on voit le renfort arriver des disciplines du sens ») 3. Richard Hoskins’s interpretation of the current cases he investigates confirms Lacan’s prediction. Yet, Hoskins came back a changed man from the personal journey that took him back to his traumatic past. « It’s not so much that you take these cases back home, he told me, it’s the part of you you leave behind ». Despite the years he spent as an academic, Richard Hoskins has given up searching for meaning, a meaning that would give us solace and explain off the terrible crimes he investigates. Adam’s murder isn’t featured alongside Reggie and Ronnie Kray’s crimes or John George Haise’s bathtub in Scotland Yard’s new museum. For Adam, for Abigail, there is no closure.
1The quotation was picked upon by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe for the title of his post-colonial novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), in which a female character gives birth to 4 sets of twins, all of which are abandoned in the Evil Forest. Hoskins explains how twins were considered as unknown until recently and were thus feared and discarded, in keeping with religious beliefs.
3 Jacques-Alain Miller, Un effort de poésie, May 14th and 21st 2003.