Head of Zeus have a growing reputation as the home of international crime, with authors such as Lesley Thomson, J.S.Monroe, Graham Masterton, Stefan Ahnhem and C.J. Box all with new titles in recent months. In May, Head of Zeus are celebrating its list of crime to die for with crime events around the UK. As part of the celebrations, Scandinavian sensation Stefan Ahnhem (Wallander screenwriter and author of acclaimed novels (Victim Without A Face and The Ninth Grave) and international bestseller C.J. Box (author of the acclaimed Joe Pickett series) visited the UK to mark the occasion. We caught up with them to talk all things crime:
Can you tell us a bit about your latest novel?
SA (left) A missing Minister of Justice, organ trafficking and love. The Ninth Grave explains what went wrong in Stockholm six months before Victim Without a Face.
CJB (right) Vicious Circle is the 17th novel in the Joe Pickett series and in it, Pickett is confronted by an ex-con rodeo cowboy bent on revenge.
What is appealing about writing crime as a genre?
SA All drama is about conflict. In crime stories the conflict is about life and death. That’s pretty much it.
CJB Crime novels set in specific locales give authors and readers an opportunity to explore the culture, history, and contemporary character of the place using an investigation as the narrative tool. Plus, people buy them.
What to you is the key feature of a good crime novel? What is the hardest thing to get right?
SA It has to be unputdownable, fascinating and intriguing. And in the end, fulfilling. Separately, each one of these aspects is very hard to get right. All four together are almost impossible.
CJB Location, realistic and empathetic characters, a sense of place, a contemporary issue which engages the reader, and enough tension and suspense to keep the pages turning.
What are your reading habits? Do you read novels by other crime writers? Which ones? Are you influenced by any other authors?
SA Mostly I listen to audio books. Then I can ‘read’ less important things at the same time. I read everything as long as I’m not getting bored. At the moment I’m reading Jo Nesbø’s latest book. I would say Philip K Dick is the author who has influenced me the most.
CJB I read fiction, non-fiction, fiction, non-fiction – with about every fourth book a crime or mystery novel. I hope I’m influenced by good crime authors and not bad ones.
Crime dramas are always on television and film, and crime novels are often adapted for the screen. What do you think makes crime so appealing on screen and do you think there is anything filmic about the genre in the novel?
SA Honestly I don’t know. Popular novels tend to be adapted no matter what the genre is. A good story is a good story is a good story.
CJB It is appealing on the screen for the same reasons it’s appealing on the page.
All of your novels are have the place they are set at their forefront. Why do you think location is so important in your novels and in crime novels generally?
SA The location sets the tone and atmosphere, so yes I would say it is very important. I set The Ninth Grave in Sweden at the point where it’s only twenty minutes from Denmark because I wanted to work with the different cultures. And as we all know, killers are crossing borders all the time.
CJB Most of us are (at least in part) voyeurs and we like to travel. We’re curious about understanding others as well as wondering what we would do ourselves if we found ourself in a dire predicament. A good crime novel set in a specific location allows us to visit another place and experience the best and worst about it without leaving the comfort of our reading chair.
The critic Alan Holquist once said that crime novels are “escape literature... from literature itself”, but we are seeing more and more crime novels being nominated for literary prizes. What place do you think crime has in the contemporary literary canon?
SA A good story is a good story is a good story.
CJB Would you rather read Michael Connelly, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin – or Alan Holquist? But to answer the question, genre lines blur depending on the quality of the writing rather than the subject matter. Most “literary” authors have written (or are writing) crime novels, just as some good crime novelists have written novels that qualify as literature.
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