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Mid-tier author fakes own death to achieve spike in Amazon sales

Locomotive correspondent Max Hall reports.

Author and USyd alumnus Samuel Watts has been accused of faking his own death to collect on the posthumous spike in royalties he hoped would be generated by news of his passing. Watts disappeared from his home last week and was presumed dead when police found his car parked near a cliff in far north Queensland. A note, allegedly quoting Shakespeare and Jack Kerouac, had been left.

Investigators became suspicious when they noticed that details of Watts’ suicide closely matched those of Ken Kesey’s faked death in 1965 – particularly the elaborate prose of Watt’s note which a senior police officer described, on the condition of anonymity, as “deeply purple”. Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was attempting to evade marijuana charges at the time of his disappearance.

The incident seems to have been motivated by poor sales of Watts’ second novel, Title Deed, which follows the lives of three broke humanities graduates who find themselves working as conveyancers in suburban Brisbane. According to a for-web-only review by the Sydney Morning Herald, Title Deed was, like Watts’ first novel, an attempt at one of those modern novels structured around various literary themes and quotations that aim to finally put to good use things the author learnt while studying English at university.

Watt’s was eager to talk when contacted by Honi Soit. Laughing off concerns about potential prosecution for misleading police he said he was happy to be back with his family and claimed to be “enthused, ebullient, even ecstatic” by a rise in sales of Title Deed. “I’m not sure why no one thought to do this before – look how well Pratchett and Marquez have been doing recently. Death was the breakthrough my career needed,” he said. “I’m not sorry.”

Amazon, Book Depository, and Dymocks have withheld royalties totalling $34.10 pending results of the police investigation.