Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax and the Importance of Settings in a novel

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax, my debut novel, focuses on the search for a deadly bomber in a small, devout town. It was so fundamental to the narrative to create an oppressive setting and to help with this I created my town as hemmed in on all sides by mountains and desert, essentially cut off from the outside world.  Its physical landscape matches the claustrophobic psychological state that many of its residents experience on a day to day within the controlling rules the Faith has established.

Because living in what's essentially a closed religious community is a world that many people in the Western world no longer experience, it was vital to make both my cops, Marty and Al, outsiders -- so that they could act as a conduit for the readers’ questions. As outsiders, both men have differing experiences and attitudes to the Faith and the world around them and we witness its impact on not just the townsfolk, but them as individuals. I hope that their position as outsiders, albeit to varying degrees, works to introduce the reader to the world of Abraham City. It was also vital, because one of the novels other key characters, Clark Houseman, is so compelling a study, that I create interesting cops, so that Clark not suck up all the narrative's oxygen. With that in mind it was vital to give Marty and Al intriguing back-stories and also give them a shared past like a long married couple. Obviously, it was important that this information be drip fed to the reader, little by little, otherwise there would just be too many establishing facts served in a dollop up front in the narrative rather than creating enticing multi-layered characters for the reader to unpeel like the proverbial onion. As written, the readers unravel the cops recent shared and individual pasts, as much as I want to reveal, for there is, after all, a prequel in the writing so no spoilers. Through Marty and Al we meet the other players in the drama, the townsfolk, many of whom are under suspicion of being the bomber, but others who are there to add light and shade and show us our cops on the case, individually and together and, in doing so, reveal their true personalities.  In Iran they say that you can tell how devout a woman is by how far back on her head she wears her headscarf, but just as in Iran, rebellion - even slight - is dangerous and the Faith are all too aware of that.
In Abraham City people can get the measure of you by what you choose to serve them as refreshment. But, conversely, this is a world where neighbours spy on neighbours, so what you are being shown may not be your neighbour's reality at all. So, suspicion and false accusation is rife. The Faith has made spies of its citizens and, in turn, those in power spy on all the citizens because to take their eye off the ball may allow dissenters to gather and grow and threaten the status quo. Best to cut off dissent before it can ferment. But when you do that you create enemies who might not strike back until you are least expecting it. To quote my ultimate writing hero, Shakespeare, “Revenge is a dish best served cold”. 

You can follow Cal Moriarty on Twitter @Calmoriarty

The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Maj Sjöwall in conversation with Lee Child at Crimefest 2015

I have always considered the axiom ‘the past is never dead, for it lays the foundations for the future’ to be true – and the name Martin Beck is proof.

Following on from the enthusiasm for Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the Guardian featured this interesting feature on Martin Beck, and the writers Maj Sjöwall and her partner, the late Per Wahlöö - the writers of these remarkable crime novels from Sweden.

It might count as one of the most remarkable writing collaborations in the history of publishing. A man and a woman, a couple, sit down every evening to write. Dinner is over, their children are in bed. She's never written a book before. He's a published author, but not with anything like this. They write in long hand, through the night if necessary. One chapter each. The following evening they swap chapters and type them up, editing each other as they go along. They don't argue, at least not about the words. These seem to flow naturally.

Ten years, 10 books. Each book 30 chapters, 300 chapters in all. Every one centred on the same group of middle-aged, mostly unprepossessing policemen in Stockholm's National Homicide Department. Often, very little happens. Sometimes for pages on end. What is more, each book is a Marxist critique of society. Their mission – or "the project" as the authors call it – is to hold up a mirror to social problems in 1960s Sweden.
Unlikely as it may sound, the books have become international bestsellers, over 10m copies sold and counting. Classics of the thriller genre, they've been made into films and adapted for television. Subsequent generations of crime writers are fans. There's no doubt that the latest left-leaning Swedish author to hit the bestseller lists, Stieg Larsson, would have read them. Some say the couple wrote the finest crime series ever; that without them we would not have Ian Rankin's John Rebus or Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander.
Read the full article here

In my travels, so many writers, especially from mainland Europe credit Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö for ‘opening the door’ for them, such as Erland Larsson [the late Stieg Larsson’s father] in an interview I recorded a few years ago [for Jeff Pierce’s The Rap Sheet]  and archived here, Roslund and Hellstrom also credited their influence here and here – and list goes on, for Martin Beck was the precursor for the contemporary police procedural.

The BBC in the UK produced audio plays of all ten novels featuring the laconic Martin Beck, and can be purchased here from the BBC

So last year at the close of Crimefest 2014’s key note event on the British Golden Age of Crime Fiction from writer / critics the Talented Mr [Mike] Ripley, Professors Barry Forshaw and Peter Guttridge, [ you can view that presentation here ] - Adrian Muller announced that [with thanks to Barry Forshaw, Lee Child and many others], he had secured a very rare visit to the British Isles of Maj Sjöwall, to speak at Crimefest 2015

As Shots Magazine have readers scattered throughout the world, we have recorded what must be considered one the key events in 2015’s crime fiction calendar, Maj Sjöwall in conversation with Lee Child.

A note first; the filming is a tad “gonzo”  [and split into 5 x 10 minute sections] so you are unlikely to see this film screened at Cannes anytime soon, and you will see a guest performance from Detective Peter Rozovsky [the man behind Detectives Beyond Borders] as he was photographing the event; and I asked the first question related to Stuart Rosenberg’s film adaptation, transplanting the action from The Laughing Policeman to San Francisco, and here’s the trailer

So without further ado, please take your seats for Maj Sjöwall in conversation with Lee Child at Crimefest 2015, in Bristol, England recorded 16th May 2015

Part One : Maj Sjöwall in conversation with Lee Child

Part Two : Maj Sjöwall in conversation with Lee Child

Part Three : Maj Sjöwall in conversation with Lee Child

Part Four : Maj Sjöwall in conversation with Lee Child

Part Five : Maj Sjöwall in conversation with Lee Child

The ten novels that make up the Martin Beck mysteries are published by Harper Perennial and all available from the Shots Magazine Bookstore here
If you’ve enjoyed the Crimefest 2014 presentation on the Golden Age of British Crime Fiction, then we’d urge you to explore the work of these key writer/literary [and film] critics. Their work can be purchased with discounts from the Shots Bookstore –

Barry Forshaw’s work is available here
Mike Ripley’s work is available here
Peter Guttridge’s work is available here
Ayo Onatade’s Shots Report from Crimefest 2015 is archived here

And for those interested in Lee Child, here’s last year’s interview at The Rap Sheet and here’s an older one from January Magazine and more information on the work of Lee Child is available from  

We urge you to plan ahead for Crimefest 2016, details for all Crimefest information is available from and here’s a little video about what to expect, with commentary from some faces you will recognise

We hope to see you next year, as Crimefest is to quote Detective Peter Rozovsky “Bloody Top Biff”

Lee Child with Peter 'Detectives Beyond Borders' Rozovsky at Crimefest 2015 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Ragnar Jónasson on Snowblind and Influences

Ragnar Jónasson (Copyright Ayo Onatade May 2015)
Today's guest blog is by Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson. He talks about the influences on his writing. 

I think that a writer is influenced, consciously or not, by everything he or she reads. And having read more than a bit of English-language crime and detective fiction through the years, I am very proud to have my Dark Iceland series published in English for the first time, with Snowblind, the first of the series, now available.

Although I’m not the best judge of the key influences that my favourite writers may have had on my work, I think it’s safe to say that I have tried to place great emphasis on setting, something I find very important and have long admired in the books of Agatha Christie and P.D. James. In a way, the setting of my series might possibly be regarded as one of the major “characters” in the stories. Snowblind is set in the northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjordur, a place surrounded by mountains and the sea, accessible only via mountain tunnels. In the winter, the 24-hour darkness combines with avalanches and unremitting snowstorms to create a claustrophobic setting – a place where no one can enter and no one can leave when the weather is at its worst.
I mention Agatha Christie in particular because I’ve been reading her books with great enjoyment since I was twelve. From the age of seventeen until I embarked on my own writing career I used to translate Christie books into Icelandic – a total of fourteen novels plus some short stories – alongside my studies and day job as a lawyer. Christie is undoubtedly an important influence on the majority of crime writers; whether they aspire to write like her or not, she is very often used as a benchmark. Her plotting was, of course, magnificent; the twists so often simple yet deeply clever. It’s hard to choose a favourite from the Christie oeuvre, but titles that spring to mind include Murder on the Links and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Also hailing from the Golden Age of crime, another of my influences has to be Ellery Queen and his (their) early detective novels. They managed to create a very likable detective and to plot terrific whodunnits. My own favourite is The Dutch Shoe Mystery, which was written in 1931. Another “Golden Age” American who springs to mind and whose books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed is S.S. Van Dine, the creator of the entertaining sleuth Philo Vance; from that series I would recommend The Greene Murder Case (1929).
Scottish author Josephine Tey is another wonderful crime writer whom I admire, but her career was, unfortunately, far too short. Her books are very different from the classic whodunnits of her contemporaries, but very cleverly plotted and filled with great atmosphere. One of my best-loved Tey novels is The Franchise Affair, a brilliant mystery from 1948. 
Amongst more contemporary crime writers, P.D. James was certainly one of the very best, with every single one of her books offering a real treat. She had a talent for great settings but her biggest strength, I believe, lay in her characters. She managed to create extraordinarily memorable characters, and not just Dalgliesh or her other protagonists; each and every suspect comes to life on the pages and remains with the reader long after the book has finished. I was fortunate enough to meet James on a couple of occasions, and I also interviewed her for an Icelandic newspaper; she was a wonderful person as well as one of the greatest crime writers of all time. The last three Dalgliesh novels are my favourites: The Private Patient (2008), The Lighthouse (2005) and The Murder Room (2001). 

I am fairly certain that all of the wonderful authors I’ve mentioned have had some influence on my work, in one way or another, and these are authors whose books I continue to read (or re-read). It’s certainly nice to sit down in the evening, when an Icelandic snowstorm is raging outside, and get caught up in the world of Poirot, Marple, Queen, Vance, Grant or Dalgliesh. And then it’s back to my desk to join my character Ari Thor, and see where his next exploits will take me.

Siglufjörour: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson (Trans by Quentin Bates) is published on 15 June by Orenda Books, Price £8.99

Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavik in 1976, and currently works as a lawyer, while teaching copyright law at the Reykjavik University Law School. In the past, he’s worked in TV and radio, including as a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before embarking on a writing career, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had several short stories published in German, English and Icelandic literary magazines. Ragnar set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) in Reykjavik, and is co-founder of the international crime-writing festival Iceland Noir. Ragnar Jónasson has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, and he is currently working on his sixth. He lives in Reykjavik with his wife and two daughters. Nightblind will be published by Orenda Books in 2016