Book Review: The burglar in the bin bag

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South Africans are a gullible lot as a “Burglar in the bin bag” shows. Indeed, the fact that this is Arthur Goldstuck’s sixth book on urban legends since 1990 speaks volumes too.

In this volume he addresses several new myths and revisits some older legends, starting with the Mayan calendar and the end of the world in December 2012. Back in the present, Goldstuck does probe several myths with security implications – notably reports that up to 100 000 women and children were set to be trafficked into South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, that Cape Town gangsters have a “kill a tourist day” and that burglars or house robbers or both use rubbish and a colour code to mark houses for later attention.

defenceWeb has reported to some length on the human trafficking issue and especially the difficulty of determining the actual extent of the problem. To date, despite all the scare mongering, no case of forced trafficking has been reported to the police. The “kill a tourist day” nonsense involves Irish actress Victoria Smurfit,who seemingly was having a bad brain day (Kill a Tourist Day) , and the house marking garbage is pure rubbish (pun intended, E-mail scares #2: This week’s crime waves), but makes great reading anyway.

Sadly, I could not find the signature myth, that of the burglar in the bin bag, in the book; as that is what first attracted me to the title. Fortunately, Goldstuck maintains a urban legends blogspot (http://thoselegends.blogspot.com) and the story is listed there (E-mail scares #5: Burglars are a load of rubbish). Most amusing!

The trouble with this book is that much of its content is available online. This, of course, is more a problem for Goldstuck and Penguin than for you or me. In book form, The burglar in the bin bag retains great utility value though: it is a great light read and, with Christmas a moth away, could be a wonderful gift for those souls who email or SMS you urban legends and hoaxes.

To close, herewith Goldstuck’s Three Rules for dealing with urban legends:

– Rule 1: Never pass on a mass-mail email.

– Rule 2: If you feel deeply compelled to pass on a mass-mail email, refer to rule 1.

– Rule 3: If you just know that this is an obviously true story and you’d be risking great harm to friends and family by not passing it on, refer to rule 1!

To which we can add: Rule 4: If you cannot help yourself, first visit Goldstuck’s blogspot or any of the other recognised debunking sites (Legends & Rumours, Snopes.com, Storypot, The alt.folklore.urban archive, The Big Change, urbanlegends.about.com) and check if the “warning” does not already have pride of place there.

Arthur Goldstuck

The burglar in the bin bag

Penguin



Johannesburg
2010