:: Article

You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life

By Sam Jordison.

raoulmoat

Andrew Hankinson, You Could Do Something Amazing with Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat]
 (Scribe, 2016)

In the early hours of 3 July 2010, Raoul Moat, a former panel-beater, doorman and body-builder, shot and injured his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart at her mother’s house in Birtley, near Gateshead. He also shot and killed her current lover, Chris Brown. A day later, he shot and blinded police officer David Rathband.

Moat hid out in the Northumbrian countryside and there was a huge manhunt. The police even employed TV survival expert Ray Mears to help look for him, while the troubled former footballer Gazza took it upon himself to try to supply Moat with fishing rods and Kentucky fried chicken. But Moat wasn’t found until July 10th, when the police eventually tracked him down to the small town of Rothbury. There, there was a six-hour stand-off and then, he shot himself.

While he was in hiding (initially with two accomplices, who helped supply him with food, writing materials, Dictaphone tapes and – as we learn here — “reggae, reggae sauce”) Moat wrote a 49-page letter entitled “Raoul Moat Murder Statement 4/7/10,” where he declared: “Here I will make all the facts clear so there is no misunderstanding about the events which took place and the build up to these events”. He also recorded several rambling hours on a Dictaphone, detailing his anger with police (“People like the police demoralise me. That’s what bullies do”), consternation about his crimes (“There are downsides to this I never thought about”) and enduring love for Sam Stobbart (“I was very tempted to shoot her mother, but that’s Sam’s mum and Sam needs her. I want Sam to have a happy life”).

Hankinson has used these testimonies, together with previous diaries, police evidence, psychological statements and media reports to piece together a narrative written from as close as possible to Moat’s confused mind. As a true crime novel, it fits in with that rich troublesome tradition stretching back through In Cold Blood to the Newgate novels and the notorious recreations of Jack Shepherd’s career. But this book still feels singular in its insistence on the documentary record and on only showing events as Moat saw and understood them. Not least because Moat’s point of view is so at odds with reality.

Moat always presents himself as someone at the whim of circumstances, a man trying to do his best but forced into the worst: “I warned them but they wouldn’t listen,” he says of the police, who he feels forced him to act. “Had he been an ordinary guy and not police I wouldn’t have shot him,” he says of Chris Brown (who wasn’t actually in the police).

A measure of Hankinson’s achievement comes from that fact that long extracts taken from Moat’s own diaries and tapes are near indistinguishable from the voice created by Harkinson in the rest of the text… The only differences come when Hankinson changes to the second person, and sometimes adds accusatory editorial: “David Rathband… deliberately hanged himself. You did that.”

Hankinson has skilfully captured an interior monologue, with all its contradictions, special pleading, deceit and confusion. It’s impressive. Yet this singularity of voice also provokes questions about how well he has managed to explore all aspects of Moat’s character. There’s a problem in sticking so close to Moat’s diaries, his letter and his Dictaphone recordings in that they are generally attempts to reflect on and justify his actions. By Moat’s standards, they are calm and considered. It’s hard not to wonder about what else might have happened in Moat’s head, especially in the heat of action. Does his record of repeated violence and work as a doorman not suggest he was the kind of big man who enjoyed pushing his weight around? Is there a chance he took vindictive pleasure in shooting his ex-lover’s new boyfriend? Did he always feel pushed into a corner? Or was there a chance that he was so furious he barely knew what he was doing? The novel doesn’t really go there.

It’s also possible to complain of omission because Hankinson shows us so little of the world outside Moat’s head. Where are the victims’ voices? What of the women he terrorised, the man he killed, the other he blinded? But of course, to give room to anyone else would fundamentally alter the nature of this book and undermine its claustrophobic force. It’s an uncomfortable compromise — but one that has resulted in a powerful, intimate account of a ruined mind.

19749423856_a5edee165b_z

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sam Jordison is a co-director of Galley Beggar Press and writes for The Guardian. He teaches a course about novels at Kingston University, is working on a book about literary London, and has nearly finished another about HG Wells and cycling. He lives in Norwich with his family.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 14th, 2016.