The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

Young Talented Author

This novel has been a success around the world. When I had finished the novel I saw a photo of the author Joël Dicker on the back cover. Dicker is a young Swiss man born 1985 (!) and he has written a novel that feels so mature. Life is unfair!

Marcus Goldman

…is the novel’s narrator. Marcus is a young author, whose debut novel was a success. The problem is that he gets writer’s block when he tries to write the sequel. At first the publisher is laidback but as time passes they put pressure on him. At last he asks his mentor Harry Quebert for help. Harry lives in a small town on the west coast and he is one of the most well-known authors in the U.S. He wrote the critically acclaimed novel The Root of All Evil, a love story about impossible love.

Murder Mystery

When Harry is suspected of killing a young girl that disappeared in the 1970s the entire country is shocked. The 15-year-old Nola is found murdered in Harry’s yard with a copy of The Root of All Evil. It does not look good, but Marcus is convinced that his friend is innocent and he starts looking into the past. It is a small town and the people who were there when the girl disappeared are still around. Secrets are revealed and old truths are tested.

Clever and Suspenseful

The novel is skillfully composed. It is very suspenseful and has the perfect tone. Technically the novel has several different timelines and complicated threads/relationships and it deals with many interesting topics, such as the border between truth and fiction. How can an author write a sequel to a critically acclaimed novel without getting anxiety? And then we have the small-town façade with its crumbling interior. I can only agree with the rest of the world, who thinks this is a novel worth reading.

 

The Shadows by Katarina Wennstam

An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth

Men who hate women, abusers and rapists have to look out. In Wennstam’s latest novel we get to meet a group of women who have decided that society’s punishments are not enough and they retaliate with the same amount of punches, burns, broken bones or wounds that the men have inflicted on the women. No more, no less. The group receives a lot of public support and many think that the men only have themselves to blame.

It’s Only Fair

The novel is not really credible and not very suspenseful, but it is still worth reading and it encourages reflection. It is very current, because these days many news stories cover cases where rapist are acquitted in the Swedish courts, but it does not justify people taking matters into their own hands. I think the most interesting aspect is the effect the crimes have, and the police warn men of walking alone at night (i.e. they get to experience what it is like for women). As a woman I cannot help but thinking “it’s only fair.”

 

Original title in Swedish: Skuggorna

Interview with Jenny Rogneby

Photo: Mikael Eriksson

Jenny Rogneby’s first crime novel about Leona Lindberg was recently released. The novel was a breath of fresh air and impossible to put down.

Jenny, welcome to TheCrimeHouse!

For our readers who may not know who you are, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a 40-year-old criminologist and I work as an investigator at the City Police in Stockholm, Sweden. I was born in Ethiopia, grew up in Boden in northern Sweden, and have lived in Stockholm for many years. I recently published my first crime novel in a series about the police Leona Lindberg.

It must be an advantage to be a criminologist and an investigator when you write crime novels. But you are also a trained musical artist and you have worked as an artist for many years (e.g. you have been the opening act for Michael Jackson, released an album in Japan, and toured both in Sweden and abroad), do you use that experience in your writing in any way, and if so, how?

I think I have always had a desire to express myself artistically. Either through music, dance, art, or like now, through writing. I think all my life experiences benefit my writing when it comes to creating characters, environments and dialogues. I get a lot of inspiration from movies and music. For example, I can use some moods in musical pieces when I describe the mood in a scene.

How did your writing career start?

I got the idea for Leona when I had worked as an investigator for a few years. The idea would just not go away. So I decided pretty quickly that I must write it down and figured I would write a novel. I decided to give it an honest try, so I took a leave of absence, sold my condo in Stockholm, all my furniture, and moved abroad for a year to write. I moved to Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean with a nice climate and not too many distractions – a perfect place for writing.

How long did it take to finish the novel and how much of that time was research and how much was writing time?

It took a little over a year before I sent the novel to publishers. Before that I contacted the author Sören Bondeson, who reviewed my manuscript. When you have a job in the same field as what you are writing about, you do not have to do that much research. So I have not spent much time on that. But this was the first manuscript I have written so I have spent a lot of time exploring the craft and finding my own way of writing, etc.

The main character, Leona Lindberg, is very special. Can you please tell us a little about her and how you came up with the character?

Leona was the first character I created. I thought it was liberating to write about a person who has lived her life according to the norm for years, but then decides to break free from society’s expectations and do things on her own terms. But Leona’s pursuit of a life free from obligations comes with a very high price. She carries a lot of personal baggage, which make her choices destructive and problematic for her as well as the people around her.

To write about a person that breaks social rules and cross boundaries that people normally do not is extremely interesting. Especially to write about a woman, mother, and police, that is expected to act in a certain way. What happens when Leona no longer does what is expected of her is what drives the story forward.

Both you and Leona are investigators at the City Police in Stockholm; how have you used your knowledge and experiences in your writing and how much of yourself is in Leona?

My experiences and knowledge about police work, the investigative process and the justice system is a big advantage and I use it a lot in my writing. I have worked with countless investigations and many different types of crime. Everything from simpler crimes, like thefts to aggravated assault, robberies, rapes, murders, etc. I have interrogated countless plaintiffs, witnesses and suspects and collected all the necessary evidence that is needed. I have used my knowledge since my first novel is about a bank robbery investigation.

There are some similarities between me and Leona, but mainly differences. Just like me Leona is a woman investing crime at the City Police. Leona also wants to get away from her predictable everyday life and questions why she should live according to the norm. I recognize myself in that way of thinking. However, Leona does not hesitate to break rules to get where she wants and she has a pretty dark past and events in her childhood often makes her act without emotion. She does not act the way that is expected of a woman, police, and mother. Her whole life Leona has acted the way people have expected, and she has showed a façade that she can no longer maintain. What happens is that she breaks free—with a vengeance.

What advice do you have for our readers who are aspiring authors?

The most important thing is to decide that you will finish the manuscript. Many people start but never finish. For me it helped a lot to plan the entire novel and write a synopsis before I started writing. Then you have a foundation that you can return to if you get stuck. You also know in which direction you are heading, even though that can obviously change during the writing process. My last piece of advice is that when you have finished the manuscript, let someone review it and give positive and negative feedback. Then you can decide if you want to rework and improve it before you send it to publishers.

Do you have any writing role models? If so, who? And why?

I do not have any specific authors, but I get a lot of inspiration from movies, music, news, people around me, everyday events and my job.

Are you working on a new project? And if so, can you please tell us a little about it?

Right now I am working on the second novel in the series about Leona. The series will be published in seven other countries, so the next few years I will work on the continuation of the series.

Anything else you want to share with our readers?

That they can follow me on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/jenny.rogneby

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Good luck with your current project!

 

Note: This interview has been translated from Swedish.

Interview with Christoffer Carlsson

 

Note: This is a shortened version of the interview published on Deckarhuset (in Swedish).

Christoffer, welcome to TheCrimeHouse!

In one sentence – How would you describe your crime novels for someone who has never heard of you?

Wow, difficult. Crime dramas, exciting stories about crime, where characters and relationships are equally important to driving the story forward as the plot.

You write crime novels, but you also do research in criminology—one could say you are fascinated by crime. Is that true and what have made you work in this field?

Ha ha, yes, you could say that. The important thing for me, as a researcher and author, is to try to understand people’s lives: why do they act the way the act, think the way they think, feel the way they feel, why do they turn out a certain way. Sometimes crime is a very central element when it comes to understanding a person’s life, sometimes not. And, also, sometimes the crime’s consequences (e.g. a prison term) is extremely important in understanding why a person’s life turns out the way it does. So crime actually fascinate me a lot in that way. And hey, stories about crime tend to be quite exciting, since the person who commits the crime by definition is doing something he/she needs to hide from others.

Can you briefly tell us about your research? And more importantly, how do you have time to write as well?

My research has mainly focused on the processes, events and factors that influence people’s lives when it comes to their criminality: what triggers people to commit crime? What is it that makes them continue once they have started, and what makes them (finally) stop? Together with a few others in a larger research group, I have conducted a lot of interviews with people who have had different forms of “criminal careers”, which we call it, and tried to find patterns and common denominators in their lives. It is more difficult than it seems.

And you know when it comes to writing, for me it has become such a natural part of life that it feels weird when I am not writing. I compare it to exercise; many people can have a family life and a career and still exercise several times a week. I write when other people exercise, which, unfortunately, means that I am in very bad shape, ha ha. But, yes, it is not that remarkable.

I am always curious about authors’ workplaces. What does it look like? Are you sitting at a desk, at a café, or at the dining table? Is it messy or neat?

I can sit pretty much anywhere: a bus, a café, a gate at the airport, at the dining table at home. It did not use to be like that, but my lifestyle demands that I be flexible, otherwise I could not write as much as I want to. I used to sit at Emergency Rooms and write before. It was the absolute best place I have ever written at. Nowadays I cannot do that I am afraid, since the security has increased. But ten years ago you could still do that. I loved it, I could sit there entire afternoons and evenings, sometimes half the night.

What is the most fun part about writing? Figure out a plot, create characters or environments, or something else?

Oh, you cannot really separate those things. For me it is all connected, the plot is intimately connected to the environment, and that it turns affects what characters are needed for the different scenes, and so on. But the original creation – when the story comes to life – as a whole is among the most fun things I know. And I mean the most fun…in life.

If your novels are adapted into movies, what actor would you like to see as Leo Junker?

I think Adam Lundgren would make an excellent Leo Junker. But unfortunately he is almost a Hollywood-star, so he may have more important things to do :(

If you were the main character in a crime novel, what would you want to be? Police, detective, private investigator, journalist, something else, and what would your style be?

Ha ha, what a great question! Detective sounds interesting…I would probably be a detective that stands in the background and most of all listens to songs like “Lost and found” with Adrienne Pierce or “Paint the silence” with South and watches “True Detective”, but has to work sometimes to afford milk and cereal. A difficult bastard. Ha, ha, that would be me! And if you have not listened to ”Paint the silence”, you should. It is a bit of a forgotten song that is really good.

You have one week left until deadline for your latest manuscript. What are you thinking/feeling then?

Hmm…I wonder if this really is a story, or if it is just a collection of chapters where characters do things that may or may not be connected. Oh well, I have been working at this for so long that someone else will have to determine that, because I have no idea anymore. Like that. Working with my publisher is actually very harmonic. We have worked together more than five years and know each other very well.

What do reviews of your novels mean to you?

I would be lying if I said they do not mean anything. They mean something, but not everything. It is like this, a positive review makes me happy for an hour. Then something happens that makes the joy disappear, like me spilling coffee on my clean shirt or that I walk past a mirror and realize “damn, I have become fat” or something like that. A negative review makes me cranky and down for a day or so, then that passes too. So they mean something, but definitely not everything. The important thing is that the readers are touched by my stories in some way.

Question from Thomas Engström: What’s a really good and a really bad day at the office?

Ha ha! A really bad day is when I sit down to write early, but for some reason do not write more than 1000 words all day; when there are too many distractions. When I have a good novel that I would rather be reading, or when I have tweeted something I imagine is funny and I want to see if people have shared it, or when I am hungry or thirsty and I am not at home, but at a hotel or in a park and have to go somewhere to eat or drink… Basically when there are too many distractions. Then you can also be sure that someone is posting a negative review of one of my previous novels somewhere, or that a planned book event that I have looked forward to is cancelled, or…well, you get it. An uninvited guest rarely shows up alone, like grandpa always said. That is a really bad day at the office. It happens sometime, but not very often. A really good day at the office is when I write a lot, which in my world equals around 3000 words or more, and I get a hamburger for lunch. Something like that.

If you had to write a historic crime novel or a crime novel that takes place in the future, what would you choose?

I would like to write a historic crime novel, but I would not go back very far; I would write about something in the 1970s or 1980s. Does that even qualify as a historic crime novel?

Thank you!

Leona: The Die Is Cast by Jenny Rogneby

Seven-year-old Bank Robber

A naked, bloody, seven-year-old girl robs a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. No one in the bank dares to do anything fearing the girl may be harmed even more. Leona Lindberg becomes responsible for the investigation.

Unconventional Character

The most important component in the novel is the main character Leona Lindberg. Her personality and actions are what make the story interesting and as a reader you want to get to know her better. With a cliffhanger ending I am sure we will get that opportunity.

As a child Leona had problems fitting into society’s norms, but as an adult she has done her best to adapt to her role as wife, mother and police, but with mixed results. It is difficult for her to relate to other people and her actions can often be questioned, but she does what she thinks needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.

She reminds me of the female police in the TV-series The Bridge and I also come to think of Lisbeth Salander. Leona is definitely a memorable character!

Breath of Fresh Air

The novel is a breath of fresh air and it has several unexpected twists, which makes it impossible to put down. It is Jenny Rogneby’s debut novel and she is an investigator just like Leona. It makes you wonder how much of her own experiences she has used in the novel. Now the question is – when will the sequel be published?

 

“Leona is a police, woman and mother, and she’s expected to think and act in a certain way. When she doesn’t, inner and outer conflicts arise, and I think that is interesting to describe.” (Jenny Rogneby)

 

Original title in Swedish: LEONA – Tärningen är kastad 

Thicker than Water by Carin Gerhardsen

Several cats are drowned and placed near water and the Hammarby Police is looking for the culprit. When a psychologist is drowned in her bathtub that case becomes prioritized. But is there a connection? When a man dies in a suspected suicide the plot thickens. Several of the police have personal connections to the cases which makes the investigation even more difficult.

Perfect Title

In this novel Carn Gerhardsen writes about family ties, secrets and revenge. The title is perfect considering the plot! We get to know some secondary characters a little better, which is appreciated. There are a few things with the plot that bugs me, but I cannot say anything without revealing too much. The novel is definitely worth reading though!

Loose Ends Explained

Thicker than Water is the seventh novel in the series. The novel is described as independent, but I disagree. There are many loose ends from earlier novels in the series that are finally explained, so the novels should definitely be read in the correct order! The quality of the novels has varied but this is one of the better ones.

 

Original title in Swedish: Tjockare än vatten

Zack by Mons Kallentoft & Markus Lutteman

Four Asian women are brutally murdered in their apartment in Stockholm, Sweden. They all work for a Thai massage studio. Were they prostitutes? Is the motive racism, human trafficking, or misogyny? The case is assigned to the Special Unit.

All Heroes Are Born From Tragedies

Zack is the main character and antihero. He is handsome, 27 years old, has had a successful career within the Stockholm Police Force and now works for the Special Unit, but he lives a double life. At night he goes to underground nightclubs and snorts cocaine with his criminal best friend.

His mother, also a police, died while on duty when he was 5 years old. The case was never solved, but Zack has sworn to find out who did it.

Hercules Series

Zack is the first part in the Hercules series, where the novels are inspired by the labours of Hercules. The Hercules connection is not clear to me, but it is nevertheless an action filled novel with high tempo. I get a bit of a “Stieg Larsson-vibe”, which must be a good thing… I really like Zack’s colleague Deniz and hope that she gets a bigger role in future novels.

Orange Is the New Black

If you have missed the hit series Orange Is the New Black (OITNB) you should definitely check it out, because this Netflix original series is good, really good! It is based on the memoir “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” by Piper Kerman.

Storyline

The series takes place in a fictional prison in Litchfield, New York, and revolves around Piper Chapman. When the series start she is newly engaged and lives a happy, successful life in New York. Her world is turned upside down when she is sentenced to fifteen months in prison, because ten years ago she helped her then girlfriend to smuggle drug money to Europe.

During the first season we get to follow Piper and how she struggles to adapt to life inside the walls. During the second season the other characters get more room and we get to know more about their backgrounds.

Great in So Many Ways

Like I said earlier, this series is really good! It brings up universal problems like racism, money, addiction, love, betrayal and sexuality. It is refreshing that the cast is predominantly female, and also that the cast is so diverse when it comes to race, sexuality and socioeconomic status.

The series also passes the Bechdel Test (it features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man), which should not surprise anyone, but there are actually surprisingly few female-focused movies and TV-series that pass this (rather easy you would think) test.

The Yard by Alex Grecian

The Yard is Alex Grecian’s first historical crime novel. The novel takes place in London in 1889, soon after Jack the Ripper stopped killing prostitutes. The Ripper is not part of the story but he lingers a collective consciousness among Londoners and they now expect the worst.

One or Two Killers?

Two nasty murders are discovered. In one case they find a Scotland Yard detective dismembered in a trunk with his mouth sown together. In the other case a bearded man’s throat has been cut. Walter Day, a newbie, is assigned to the cases. His colleagues are neither impressed nor helpful, but constable Hammersmith is a loyal hard-working police that helps him out. Day also gets help from Dr. Kingsley, a private medical examiner. Kingsley turns out to be an invaluable resource, and he shows them new techniques that may help them in their search, e.g. fingerprints.

Structure

Grecian switches between Day, Smith, Kingsley and the italicized killer. If Jack the Ripper is a mysterious figure, then this killer is more real. He is a mentally ill man who desperately tries to create a family while keeping a façade as a respectable business man.

Atmosphere

The atmosphere is bleak. It is a time where some parts of London were incredibly poor, dirty and miserable. There are prostitutes, homeless people, and drunks. Looking to survive or out of greed, people exploit each other in different ways. The police profession is anything but glamorous. The stench follows you inside. We are at the lower echelon of society, middle class at the highest. There is no romantic haze, although there is hope among the people.

Rating

If you compare this novel to other historical crime novels it is average. It is somewhat confusing and you have to struggle a bit to keep up. The characters are not groundbreaking, but rather bordering on stereotypical, but they are easy to like. Most important, however, is that the novel is exciting and gives a visual, albeit unpleasant, picture of London during the Victorian era.

Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter

I do not watch Swedish TV shows/movies that often here in the U.S., so I was thrilled to find that Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter was available on Netflix (with English subtitles).

The six movies (Nobel’s Last Will, Prime Time, Studio Sex, The Red Wolf, Lifetime, and A Place in the Sun) are based on Liza Marklund’s bestselling novels and although I had read all of them prior to watching the movies I did not remember how they would end. If you have not seen them yet, I highly recommend them.

Female Protagonist

When Liza Marklund started writing crime novels, she decided to have a female protagonist (Annika Bengtzon) in a genre where they traditionally had been men. She also introduced plotlines that had to do with the characters’ personal lives as well as current social and political issues.

Annika Bengtzon

Annika Bengtzon works as a crime reporter for a major Swedish newspaper, and she often finds herself in dangerous situations, but as a consequence, she is able to get the best scoops. She is dedicated to her work, and like many women she struggles to keep a balance between her career and family.

Marklund has said that she wanted to write about “someone who is a bit over the top in every way, who has failings and flaws, but is still believable.” In the movies Annika Bengtzon is portayed beautifully by Malin Crépin.