Sunday, 22 August 2021

I Was Blackmailed into Writing Crime Fiction…

Honestly, I’m not joking! The story started in 2004-2005, when I was trying to put together a Mystery and Thriller anthology in my day job as an editor at Tritonic Books in Romania. I had several translation contracts in place but it was hard to find any Romanian authors. I’d been an avid reader of crime fiction since childhood. Even during Communist times, we had access to the classics like Agatha Christie, Chandler, Hammet or Edgar Wallace, and after 1990 dozens if not hundreds of books in the genre were published, as if to make up for those years when the book world was controlled by the state.

So Hrib the editor asked Hrib the potential author very earnestly if he could write a Romanian crime novel. Why not? But I needed a spark to get started. 

In those days, Romanians were very keen to go to the Greek seaside in summer: good prices, nice food, beautiful beaches. While my daughter was fast asleep, I would rush to the local café early in the morning before the owner had even managed to sweep the floor properly. He would make me a nice strong coffee. Then another one. After a couple of days, he got used to me. And I ended up with two large notebooks containing a crime story taking place in Greece (obviously) but also in Romania, Austria and France.

The biggest problem I had was deciding who should be my main protagonist. I’d read far too many crime novels featuring a cop or a private eye. I wanted something different: part civilian, part investigative journalist, a bit of a busybody. No Superman, no Bond, perhaps a sort of Romanian Philip Marlowe. But what would an investigator from the Balkans be like? By no means as heroic as Jack Reacher, nor as deep in thought as Wallander. Perhaps Montalbano would be a closer fit – after all, Romanians love their food nearly as much as the Italians.

While searching for inspiration for my Balkan hero, I spent my evenings at a seafood tavern. After a copious meal of calamari and seasoned octopus, accompanied by taramasalata and tsatsiki, I would stay up late at night over a glass of Metaxa with the owner Stelios. He was a charismatic guy, full of contradictions, a capitalist with leftist tendencies, and I couldn’t resist borrowing his name for my main character. As for the surname, that was the easy part. I was born in Bucharest which lies in a flat plain so I always dreamt of the mountains. And thus, the character Stelian Munteanu was born. ‘The Greek Connection’ was published in 2008 in Romania and in 2015 in Canada.

After the first novel, there were quite a few readers demanding a second one. I was somewhat influenced by the success of the Da Vinci Code at the time and wrote ‘The Cursed Manuscript’ together with a historian. The policeman Tony Demetriade, who barely appeared in the first book, gets promoted in his job and therefore plays a more central role in this second novel.

The third book was a military thriller about the Somalian pirates but many readers considered it a love story because that is the book in which Stelian meets Sofia Matei and falls in love.

The fourth novel ‘Kill the General’ was translated and published in the UK in 2012, and in this novel (which takes place largely in Vienna) and the next one (where Copenhagen forms the backdrop), the civilian Stelian and the policeman Tony start to form a proper crime-busting, spy-catching duo.

After a bit of a break, Stelian and Tony get back together in ‘Resilience’. Stelian Munteanu is now married, his wife is supporting him with her well-paid job in London, and he gets caught up in a confusing story. His old friend Chief Inspector Tony Demetriade tries to help, together with his new partner, the young and beautiful Anabella Păduraru. But the case throws up all sorts of surprises… 

I’ve been faithful to the crime fiction community by and large, although I’ve had a few small detours along the way. I’ve tried to describe places I’ve actually visited – with the exception of Somalia. Although some friends who know Somalia won’t believe me that I relied solely on research in that case.

I would say this is the perfect life for a crime author: lots of new places to discover, good coffee and food to enjoy, stories to eavesdrop on the terraces or in taxis… And no end of places in the world where you can tape off the area and say: ‘No trespassing. Crime (writing) scene in progress.’

Resilience by Bogdan Hrib (Corylus Books) Translated by Marina Sofia (Out Now)

Stelian Munteanu has had enough of fixing other people’s problems: all he wants to do is make the long-distance relationship with his wife Sofia work. But when a notorious Romanian businessman asks him to investigate the death of his daughter in the north of England, he reluctantly gets involved once more. This time it turns into a tangled web of shady business dealings and international politics. Moving rapidly between London, Newcastle, Bucharest and Iasi, Resilience shows just how easy and dangerous it is to fall prey to fake news and social media manipulation.

Bogdan Hrib was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1966. He is a former journalist, civil engineer by education and now professor at the University in Bucharest, Hrib is the co-founder of Tritonic Books (1993) and has been instrumental in bringing other Romanian crime writers into English publication. He was the vice-president of the Romanian Crime Writers Club (2010-2012), and the director/organizer of the International Mystery & Thriller Festival in Râșnov (2011-2015), as well as the PR coordinator of the History Film Festival also in Râșnov. He is the author of the crime fiction series featuring Stelian Munteanu, a book-editor with a sideline doing international police work. Kill the General (2011), the fourth book in the Munteanu series was Hrib’s first novel translated into English and won the Special Award of the Bucharest Writers Association (2012). The Greek Connection is Hrib’s second novel translated into English.

You can find Bogdan Hrib on Facebook and on Twitter @bo_hrib. More information about Bogdan Hrib and his work can be found on his website.

Marina Sofia was born in Romania but has lived in the UK for half of her life. She was a reviewer for Crime Fiction Lover for more than seven years and has also worked for Asymptote Literary Journal. Her previous translation for Corylus Books was Sword by Bogdan Teodorescu. She is on Twitter @MarinaSofia8 and she also blogs at Finding Time To Write.

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