Behind the Door: the Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp Story by Mandy Wiener & Barry Bateman, book review

Illuminating study gives a wealth of insights into Oscar Pistorius trial
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Barry Bateman was the first reporter to arrive at Oscar Pistorius's house on Valentine's Day last year, and however and wherever this story ends, Bateman will be the last to leave.

For all the reporters from all over the world who have spent long months this year in that small Pretoria courtroom, myself included, Bateman, from Eyewitness News was the person with all the answers.This book, co-authored with Mandy Wiener, an investigative journalist and true-crime writer, bears witness to an expertise on this tragic story that is entirely unmatched, certainly by any of its other chroniclers, of which there are many, but possibly even by the lawyers who have fought it out, and the judge who, at time of writing, had yet fully to decide Pistorius's fate.

Bateman, like the rest of the world, didn't know quite what had occurred on that gated compound as he rushed there on Valentine's Day morning. But he and Wiener have now seen the pictures, and the book begins with a painstakingly detailed description of a crime scene, and a horrific death, that were all too regularly overshadowed by the legal melodrama that grew from them. No detail is spared. From "the apple-green key fob" to the "Virgin Active kit bag" to the "pebble grey towels", no detail is spared.

There are two principal claims in this book that will surprise even the biggest Pistorius trial addicts, of which there are millions around the world. Firstly, that the athlete had had a lengthy phone conversation with a contact in his phone called "Babyshoes", now known to be his ex-girlfriend Jenna Edkins, the day before the shooting. He had also sent her several text messages in the hours after he accidentally discharged his firearm in Tasha's Restaurant a month before. (Pistorius had told the court he "couldn't remember" where he went and what he did that evening.)


Secondly, that the presence of wood splinters among the clean white stripes along the back and sides of the bloodied toilet suggest it was flushed before Pistorius pulled the trigger, with the water continuing to run as Reeva collapsed into it. If she had run into the toilet to hide from an intruder, having heard Pistorius shouting, why would she flush the toilet? But given such a version of events – that she went to the toilet because she needed the toilet, not because she was hiding or arguing – helped neither side, so was ignored by both.

What certainly seemed unlikely, when the trial proper began in early March this year, was that the chapter on the judgment, in which the athlete was convicted of culpable homicide but found not guilty of murder, would arrive only in September, leaving the authors 24 hours to write the final chapter, and that they would have to go to print with his ultimate fate still unknown. Bateman has said it was very much their intention not to make the book "the court transcript slapped between two covers", and in this they have succeeded.

The extensive interviews with those on the periphery of the story are illuminating, not least Justin Divaris, Pistorius's super-car salesman friend, who he called at 4am, and who despite living 40 miles away, arrived within 15 minutes to an unimaginable scene.

It will appeal primarily to anyone who wants to know every last detail about a lengthy and at times unnecessarily complicated process. The evidence of the past 18 months would suggest there is no shortage of such people.