Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Carl-Johan Vallgren on writing The Boy in the Shadows

Today's guest blog is by Swedish author, singer and musician Carl-Johan Vallgren. He is the author of eight novels, of which The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-reading Monster Hercules Barefoot was the first novel to be translated into English.  In 2002 it won the August Prize (Best Novel of the Year).  This is the first in the series featuring Danny Katz



How on earth did I come to the decision to write a crime novel, after a long and successful career as a regular fiction writer? Well, I blame the reality…

A couple of years ago, on a Friday, I went to pick up my children at the kindergarten close to where we live in northwestern Stockholm. It was late afternoon and I was in a bad mood after a day of lousy writing on a novel. I remember that my (Jewish) wife called me and asked me not to be late for Shabbes; we were supposed to eat dinner together, light the candles and say the usual prayers. 

My children were in a lousy mood too, maybe even lousier than mine; tired after a long week in kindergarten, and hungry as hell. I put my son - three years at the time - in the buggy, and grabbed my six-year-old daughters hand and started to walk down to the metro station ”Kristineberg”. The girl was asking for an ice cream, I said no, her mood dropped even more.

I got the ticket stamped and passed through the security doors to the metro. The tube is running overground at Kristineberg, and its only one stop from our home. I pushed the bottom to the elevator when my daughter said that she wanted to take the stairs to the platform. This was a bad idea in my opinion. It was close to weekend. The metro was full of stressed commuters and I also had to handle the damn buggy. I tried to explain it to her. Well, you can take the lift and I take the stairs alone, my daughter suggested. I said no. 

A quarrel was sailing up between a stressed father and a tired little girl when all of a sudden a woman approached us. Obviously she had overheard our conversation. You can take the stairs with me, she said friendly to my daughter, and then we wait for your father and little brother upstairs until they come with the lift. She was about sixty. A nice warm voice. For a second I considered her offer, until my instinct said No. I didn’t know her. She was a complete stranger. But I thanked her for her kindness of course.

 A moment later, while we were entering the lift, a father with two tired children, even before I pushed the bottom for ”up”, the writer in me was at work, the fiction fantasy was running amok.   What could have happened? What if I had said yes to the woman’s offer? What if she had disappeared with my daughter in an overcrowded Stockholm tube station?

I instantly knew that it was a first chapter to a novel. But not a regular novel - a suspense novel! A tragedy takes place in less than a few seconds. How can such a thing happen? What lies behind such a crime? I simply had a mystery to solve. It took me two years and four hundred pages and I loved it!!

More information about Carl-Johan Vallgren on his website.

The Boy in the Shadows is by Carl-Johan Vallgren and is out now (Quercus, £7.99)


The Boy in the Shadows

In the summer of 1970 a little boy disappears from an underground station in Stockholm. An unknown woman takes his hand and leads him away and he’s gone. Many years later the boy’s brother, Joel Klingberg, also disappears. His wife turns to Danny Katz - her husband’s old friend from the army’s interpreting school, a language and computer genius and a man with a sketchy past - and asks for his help. Reluctantly Katz agrees to look into the matter and he soon finds there are other secrets in the wealthy and powerful Klingberg family. His inquiries take him to a variety of contrasting environments in and around Stockholm. The drama takes a sudden turn when someone tries to frame him for murder. All at once his search also becomes a struggle for survival.  In the end Katz has no choice but to go out to the West Indies, where the foundations of the Klingberg family fortune were once laid, to a place marked by its history, colonial power, the slave trade, folk superstition and violence. In this heart of darkness, in a world where even death may not be the end, comes the dramatic, hurricane-tormented denouement of the tale.

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