Desert Island DVDs: Jónína Leósdóttir


Novelist, playwright, and journalist Jónína Leósdóttir started her career writing for a weekly newspaper. She later became editor of the weekly newspaper Pressan and assistant editor of a women’s magazine. Her first novel was published in 1993. Recipient of several awards including the national poetry award, she has been writing full-time since 2006. Published in Iceland and Germany, Jónína has written fifteen books.

Making history as the first same-sex spouse of a head of state, in 2013 she wrote a book about their relationship. Interviewed by Women’s Hour and The Telegraph she spoke about challenges they faced and inspiring others to embrace their sexuality.

Her debut crime novel, Shudder, introduced readers to Edda, an Icelandic Miss Marple. Recently retired and returning from a trip to the Canary Islands, Edda receives a letter from the son of a German penpal asking for assistance locating his mother. A sequel, The Girl Nobody Missed, will be published later this year. Jónína will read extracts from the Edda novels during the Iceland Noir walking tour of Reykjavik.


‘I very rarely watch films or TV-series more than once. No matter how much I enjoy the material, the next time I always look for something new. Therefore, I would have a hard time on a desert island with only five things to watch, over and over again, and would need to choose extremely carefully.’

‘Although The Sound of Music was released in 1965, it wasn’t shown in Iceland until 1968. At that time I was 14 years old and addicted to anything romantic, so that film really hit the spot. I couldn’t get enough of it and saw it several times at the cinema in a matter of a few weeks. It is still the film I have seen most often.’

‘Many years later, someone summed me up as a person who had never returned to ground after seeing The Sound of Music. In other words, that I was a romantic fool and unrealistic in believing that in the end, good would always conquer evil. So, stranded on a desert island, I think that would be a good film to watch regularly.’


‘To make me laugh, I would probably pick the classic Fawlty Towers (a complete set, of course), Educating Rita or The Calendar Girls. This is the hardest category to fill, as jokes tend to stop being funny when you have heard them before. Therefore, the comedy would have to have a bit of depth, too.’

‘I have never laughed so much or so loud, as I did when I saw The Calendar Girls. My mother and my wife, who were with me at the cinema, shrank in their seats with embarrassment. But I would probably end up picking Educating Rita, as I find the story so endearing and both Julie Walters and Michael Caine are perfectly cast. Actually, I saw them in the play in the West End, before the film was made.’


‘If there is such a thing as a box-set of all Mike Leigh films, I would not hesitate to take that with me to a desert island. (Yes, I know that is a bit greedy.) I think I have seen all his films and I find them absolutely wonderful. What an amazing director … the actors all seem to be totally unaware of the camera and the dialogue comes across as incredibly effortless and realistic.’

‘My top favourites are Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake, and Abigail’s Party is extremely amusing.’


‘For Drama with a capital D, I would definitely choose Priest – not the more recent film with that title, but the one written by Jimmy McGovern from 1994. It is about a young Catholic priest struggling with his sexuality and an older priest, played by Tom Wilkinson, who has little problem with his conscience about his affair with the housekeeper. I simply love this film.’ 


‘Finally, something criminal and thrilling is a must. But that would be a struggle, too, as I would be torn between two series: The Bridge (Danish/Swedish) or River (UK). Both series gave me such pleasure. The main characters are so flawed and lovable, the actors are fantastic and the cinematography amazing.’

‘When The Bridge series were on, I watched each episode on Danish TV on Sunday evenings and then again on Icelandic TV on Mondays, because I didn’t quite catch all the dialogue in Danish/Swedish.’

Thanks to Jónína Leósdóttir and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Desert Island DVDs: Annamaria Alfieri


Annamaria Alfieri is the author of three historical mysteries set in South America. Her current series takes place in British East Africa, now Kenya, beginning in 1911. The Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch described her Strange Gods as having “the flair of Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham, the cunning of Agatha Christie and Elspeth Huxley and the moral sensibility of our times.” The second in this series, The Idol of Mombasa is just out. Alfieri is also, along with Michael Stanley, the editor of the new mystery/thriller anthology Sunshine Noir, which Peter James called “a gem of an anthology—a whole new movement,” in crime fiction.


‘My passion is historical fiction. The mysteries I write take place in times past and often in remote places. So it is no surprise to me that I am drawn to the same kinds of stories when it comes to movies and television. Hence, my pick for the best of the best, when it comes to TV series, is Foyle’s War. For me it has everything. Nothing tops it.’

‘The series takes place in Hastings, on the English coast beginning in 1940, just as World War II is getting underway in earnest. The main characters are a trio led by DCS Christopher Foyle, an experienced detective, a WWI veteran, who wants nothing more than to have a serious job with the government in fighting the war. But his superiors insist that he is more valuable solving crimes, and aren’t we glad of that. His sidekicks in this effort are Samantha Stewart, a driver seconded to him from the women’s military corps and a partner who is a clear thinking policeman daunted by the fact that he lost a leg in Britain’s first military disaster of the war, in Norway.’

‘The creator and writer—Anthony Horowitz—gives us carefully drawn characters and twisty, surpassingly engaging plots. But he never gets overly precious with the surprises. Just enough to keep us guessing. Like all good historical fiction, these great stories are wrapped around legendary events—such as the evacuation of Dunkirk. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of life on the English home front during wartime. Oh, the events we expect to see are all there—the Blitz, the food shortages, the evacuation of children. But the show is much more than that. There is just enough hope and glory for us to admire the brave lads in their Spitfires fighting fascism. But we also get an unblinking look at home-front hanky panky of everyday Brits, attacking innocent German and Italian immigrants, looting bombed out factories, stealing priceless works of art as they are being moved from threatened London into safe keeping in Wales. There is just enough romance in the stories to give us a bit of relief from wartime tragedy. The underlying social issues cross the gap of decades—generational antagonisms, sexual politics, class warfare. And like all good historical fiction, the stories reflect what’s on our minds today, politically and socially.’

‘The art direction is superb. The period set decoration is perfection, and the episodes are worth watching for the scenery alone—like the vintage cars and especially the buses, the half-timber houses, the thatched cottages. Great direction, camera work, Foyle’s War has it all. Each episode, on its own, reads like a good film.’

‘The tales are character driven and the acting is superb. Led by the incomparable Michael Kitchen, who can say more with a close-up of the look in his eye or the slightest twist of his mouth than most television actors can say with twelve lines a dialog. His co-stars are up to the mark: Anthony Howell, as Foyle’s sergeant –Paul Milner, Honeysuckle Weeks, as Samantha Steward—Foyle’s driver, and Julian Ovenden as Andrew, Foyle’s son. All perfectly cast and unforgettable in their roles. (I confess that when Ovenden showed up as one of Lady Mary’s suitors in Downton Abbey, I said, “Oh, look. It’s Andrew Foyle.”)’

‘At one point, one the characters looks at the series DCS and demands, “What sort of world is this, Mr. Foyle?”’

‘The sort of world this series creates is one that recounts history without letting the background get in the way of great detective stories.’

Runners Up for my choice:



‘The prequel to the ultra-popular Inspector Morse series. Another historical offering, if you can call the 1960’s historical. The third episode of Season One—“Fugue”—is my pick for the best episode of a detective series ever.’


Inspector Montalbano

Based on the totally engaging mysteries series by Andrea Camilleri, these shows bring the brilliant Montalbano to the small screen along with great bonuses of realistic, yet wonderfully attractive actors, gripping plots, and oh, so gorgeous Sicilian scenery. The stories move like lightning. The food described is mouth watering. The people have a YUM factor all their own.’

Thanks to Annamaria Alfieri and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Annamaria Alfieri is published by White Sun Books and Felony & Mayhem



Book Review: The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson – The story of the Barbary corsair raid on Iceland in 1627 (Trans by Karl Smári Hreinsson and Adam Nichols)


In the summer of 1627 Algerian pirates descended on Iceland. Docking at Heimaey, a small island 7.4 km off the coast of Iceland, the pirates pillaged and plundered, destroyed the church, burnt farm houses and killed thirty-four people. 242 islanders were captured and transported to Africa where they were sold as slaves.

Reverend Ólafur Egilsson was one of the first to be enslaved. Born in the same year as William Shakespeare and Galileo Galilei, at the age of sixty his unshakeable religious convictions were tested when he suffered intense beatings during the voyage to Algiers. On land, the pirates executed those who made the sign of the cross or prayed, including a priest. Ólafur Egilsson was signaled out for extreme forms of punishment because he was a Lutheran minister. Routinely whipped by a rope, he was close to death when the ship reached Africa.

Ólafur Egilsson’s pregnant wife and children were also transported. After eleven days at sea, Ólafur’s wife gave birth to a boy. The child was immediately declared to be pirates’ property.

Brought ashore the captured Icelanders were taken to the slave market. Ólafur’s eleven-year-old son was taken by the Sultan’s representative. The rest of the family was taken to a house and Ólafur was put to work. He would never again see his son, Egill.

Conditions were harsh, many Icelanders perished due to overwork, heat exhaustion, and beatings.

Summoned by an official, Ólafur was ordered to visit Copenhagen and ask the King of Denmark to pay a ransom for the captives’ freedom. Iceland was at the time under Danish rule. The priest embarked on a long and tortuous journey to petition the King, unaware that the state’s finances were exhausted after the Thirty Years War.

A classic example of seventeenth-century Icelandic literature and a historically important captivity narrative, The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson remained untranslated into English until 2008. A new edition published by Catholic University America Press contains several letters written by Icelandic captives detailing their experiences as slaves in Africa.

Documenting a tragic event, the book also provides invaluable detail about Muslim and post-Reformation Christian societies in the seventeenth century.

The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson is filled with sorrow and torment. Ólafur Egilsson’s moving account of an intense personal tragedy is an enriching read.

The Travels of Reverend Ólafur Egilsson is published by Catholic University America Press.

Desert Island DVDs – Alex Gray


Scottish author Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. The city provides the backdrop to her crime novels. Recipient of the Scottish Association of Writers’ Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her writing, she is the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland international crime writing festival.

Previously a civil servant and a teacher, she has been writing professionally since 1992.

Her debut novel, Never Somewhere Else, won the Constable prize. She has published thirteen novels featuring DCI Lorimer and psychological profiler Solomon Brightman. Praised as ‘the new master of Scottish crime writing’ by the Scottish Daily Express. The Daily Mail recognised that she ‘Brings Glasgow to life in the same way Ian Rankin evokes Edinburgh.’ Her most recent book is The Darkest Goodbye.

Ahead of her appearance at Iceland Noir, Alex Gray talked about the European films that have left a lasting impression on her.


‘The five European films that would comprise my desert island DVDs are mostly from the sixties when I was an avid teenage cinema buff.’

‘One of my favourites, and one whose music still makes me feel warm and happy, is the 1966 French film, A Man and a Woman. It is a love story with a poignancy, the man and woman having both lost their partners; one to suicide and the other to a tragic accident. Meeting through their children’s school, they fall in love but it takes time for both to leave their pasts behind and wholly embrace a future together. The tentative beginnings of this new relationship are beautifully portrayed and one of the memorable lines occurs after their first dinner date together when Jean Louis is asked by the patron if there is anything else he would like and he looks across the table at the woman he is beginning to adore then replies, “Une chambre.”


‘From love and adoration to sex, pure and simple. Or perhaps not so simple as Catherine Deneuve’s portrayal of Belle de Jour, the 1967 film that has become a classic., is complex to say the least. The story of a young, bored housewife who finds no sexual satisfaction from her husband and turns to high class prostitution is well known. But how many recall that strange ending when the wife seems to be happy once more with her healthy and sexually adept husband, having seen him shot and crippled? Was it all a fantasy or is there a human metaphor here? It really doesn’t matter as Deneuve is such a brilliant actress and the entire film had its bizarre moments that French films of that era thrived upon.’


‘1969 saw the release of Pier Paolo Paolini’s Pigsty, a film that had such a profound effect on me that I went home and wrote a poem that was highly commended in a University competition.’

‘There are two parallel stories in the film; one in a past time where a young man turns cannibal, his memorable line being, “I killed my father, I ate human flesh and I trembled for joy.” ‘

‘The second storyline concerns the Third Reich and 1960’s Germany where a young man prefers his relationship with pigs to that of his fiancée but he is eaten by them.’

‘The dramatic cinematography shows the human capacity for destruction and the choices people make in society, harking back to the Nazi persecution of the Jews in a symbolic fashion.’


‘The final two are sequels, Jean de Florette, (1986) and Manon de Sources starring the iconic Gerard Depardieu as the hopeful farmer whose life is destroyed by his ambitious neighbours as they stop up the spring that waters his land in spite at having failed to obtain it for themselves. Emmanuelle Beart plays Jean’s daughter in the second film and her revenge upon the two schemers is all the sweeter as the younger one has fallen in love with her.’

‘There is something rather beautiful about the character of Jean and his downfall at the hands of his enemies and the disregard of the townsfolk who never step in to help him is heart breaking.’


‘If I were to count the last two films as one then my other choice would be the 1997 Italian film, Life is Beautiful, directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. The story of the Jewish Italian bookshop owner who saves his son from the horrors of a German concentration camp is completely moving but the beginning of the film that shows his love for Dora and how he wins her heart prevents this being a film that is sheer misery. Because it is not that at all; it is a moving account of just how life can be beautiful and brave and free even against colossal odds.’

‘If I am stranded on a desert island these films would keep me company, entertain me and make me glad to be alive.’

Thanks to Alex Gray, Little Brown Group, and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Alex Gray is published by Sphere.

Desert Island DVDs – Michael Grothaus


Novelist and journalist Michael Grothaus was born in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1977. He spent his twenties in Chicago where he earned his degree in filmmaking from Columbia and got his start in journalism writing for Screen. After working for institutions including The Art Institute of Chicago, Twentieth Century Fox, and Apple he moved to the United Kingdom where he earned his postgraduate degree in creative writing. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, Litro Magazine, Fast Company, VICE, The Irish Times, Screen, Quartz, and others. His debut novel is Epiphany Jones, a story about sex trafficking among the Hollywood elite, based on his experiences at the Cannes Film Festival.

In Epiphany Jones, Jerry has a traumatic past that leaves him subject to psychotic hallucinations and depressive episodes. When he stands accused of stealing a priceless Van Gogh painting, he goes underground, where he develops an unwilling relationship with a woman who believes that the voices she hears are from God. Involuntarily entangled in the illicit world of sex-trafficking amongst the Hollywood elite, and on a mission to find redemption for a haunting series of events from the past, Jerry is thrust into a genuinely shocking and outrageously funny quest to uncover the truth and atone for historical sins.

 A complex, page-turning psychological thriller, riddled with twists and turns, Epiphany Jones is also a superb dark comedy with a powerful emotional core. You’ll laugh when you know you shouldn’t, be moved when you least expect it and, most importantly, never look at Hollywood, celebrity or sex in the same way again. This is an extraordinary debut from a fresh, exceptional new talent.


The Dreamers (UK, France, Italy, and US, 2003)

I remember seeing this in an arthouse theater in Chicago in 2004 and thinking “Americans aren’t ready for this kind of film.” And they weren’t. Though Bernardo Bertolucci’s (Last Tango In Paris) adaptation of Gilbert Adair’s excellent novel The Holy Innocents received high critical praise, its topics, including incest and isolationism, didn’t find a large audience among Americans. However, this film is a masterclass in creating a realistic coming of age story. American foreign exchange student Matthew moves in with twins Théo and Isabelle and the trio quickly become entrapped in their own world of film admiration and psycho-sexual gameplay. Self-absorbed with their relationship, they don’t realize the social upheaval of the 1968 Paris student riots happening right outside their door.


Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors ( UK, 1965 )

They don’t make horror movies like this anymore. I first saw Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors as a kid during an October scary movie fest on television and it captivated (and scared!) me from the get go. Starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee the plot sees five men board an overnight train carriage. Then enters a tarot card reader. The five men all agree (some reluctantly) to have their cards read. Each reading of their future is played out as a mini-movie within this film (their future horrors include everything from werewolves to intelligent homicidal plants). Each tale has a clever twist and by the end of the train journey all the men are so scared, they ask if there is any way their futures can be avoided. There is–but only by one means…


L’Auberge Espagnole ( France and Spain, 2002)

One of my all-time favorite films, in English-language territories this movie was called Pot Luck or The Spanish Apartment. It follows a year in the life of French Erasmus student Xavier and his journey to Barcelona for university where he finds an eclectic group of other foreign exchange students to live with. You’ll end up falling in love with all of the characters, but what really struck me about this humorous little film is that it perfectly captures the way it feels to be thrown into a completely foreign city you’ve never been to before. At first everything seems overwhelmingly large and incomprehensible, but as time passes you come to not only known those little silent side streets, alien transit systems, and odd cafes, but come to love them–indeed, become as much a part of the city as its local residents; moving, sleeping, and living in sync with them, as if you are now an essential part of the lifeblood of a metropolis that could feel like nothing other than home.

Thanks to Michael Grothaus, Karen Sullivan, and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Michael Grothaus is published by Orenda Books

DVD Review: Maigret Sets a Trap, Maigret and the St. Fiacre Affair, Maigret Sees Red


Renowned French film star’s Maigret trilogy.

Despite being largely unknown to English audiences, Jean Gabin was one of French cinema’s biggest stars. The son of music hall artistes, he initially had no interest in an acting career. After a period working as a labourer and warehouse clerk he was cajoled by his father to join the Folies Bergère. Graduating from bit-parts to a leading man, he demonstrated an ability to play a wide variety of roles. He started a screen career at the dawn of the talking picture era.

A commanding screen actor, he appeared in 95 films in a career that lasted over 40 years. Performances in Pepe Le Moko, La Grande Illusion, La Bete Humaine, Le Jour se leve, and Le Quai des brumes were critically acclaimed. One of the pre-war period’s biggest stars, his career’s trajectory was interrupted when hostilities erupted across the continent.

In stark contrast to Georges Simenon, Gabin refused to collaborate with the Nazi regime’s film industry. Relocating to Hollywood, he was offered a contract by Twentieth Century Fox and promoted as “The Spencer Tracy of French pictures.” An artistically fruitless period, he made Moontide for Fox and The Imposter for RKO. A third project, The Temptress, was canceled when he demanded that the producers cast Marlene Detrich as his co-star (Gabin and Dietrch were real-life lovers). Told that he would never again work in Hollywood, Gabin enlisted in the French liberation forces and fought against German troops in Africa.

At the end of the war, he returned to acting. No longer a matinee idol, he played a succession of everyman parts. Gabin and Simenon’s careers first intersected with the 1950 adaptation La Marie du port. A 1958 film En cas de malheur based on Simenon’s romans dur In Case of Emergency saw Gabin act alongside Brigitte Bardot. Also released in the same year was the first of Gabin’s three cinematic outings as Simenon’s pipe smoking Inspector Maigret.


Despite being maligned by the French new wave, Jean Delannoy directed a number of box-office hits and won the Palme d’Or for his 1960 film La Symphonie pastorale. He was made an officer of the Legion of Honor, a Commander of Arts and Letters and a Commander of the National Order of Merit. In 1986 he received an honorary César. Paying tribute to Delannoy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy described the director as “More than just a great artist, he was a man of great intelligence, alert, pertinent and faithful in friendship,”

By the late 1950s, Delannoy’s reputation had been tarnished by a string of sub-standard films and criticism by François Truffaut. Attuned to the cinematic possibilities of Maigret the director had considered adapting a Simenon novel for several years before securing the cinematic rights to Maigret Sets a Trap. With a reputation for directing solid thrillers including Le garçon sauvage and La minute de vérité, he may have considered an adaptation as an opportunity to restore his box-office fortunes.

First published in 1955. The English translation of Maigret Sets a Trap was issued in 1965. The book has been adapted several times. A recent version starring Rowan Atkinson was poorly received by critics. Delannoy’s version is the most satisfying adaptation.


Primarily known in English-speaking territories as Maigret Sets a Trap, prints were circulated with the alternate titles Inspector Maigret and Woman-Bait. The film and its two sequels were the last big screen outings for Simenon’s detective released prior to the character migrating to the small screen.

An atmospheric adaptation blessed with supreme production design. Indebted to Film Noir and aware of the urban environment’s importance in the Maigret novels, the director ensured the film made the story’s location the de facto star. An entire district was slavishly on a soundstage. The decision to shoot the majority of the action on a studio lot enabled the director to exercise total control over the environment.

Hybridising American and French approaches to crime films, Delannoy’s location sequences employ expressionistic camera angles favoured by Film Noir directors and attempts to document a city still scarred by war and in the throes of modernisation.

Claustrophobic, tightly coiled and utterly focused, it’s hard to see why Delannoy’s film isn’t better known in the English-speaking world. Maigret Sets a Trap is sensitive to the humanistic philosophy expressed in Simenon’s novels. The film has many reasons to recommend tracking down a copy; tight plotting, thematic complexity, a distinguished supporting cast. At it’s core is an electric portrayal from one of French cinema’s most popular actors. Stripping away the over reliance of props that had plagued previous attempts at filming Maigret, Gabin’s performance conveyed compassion and solidity. Simenon was pleased with Gabin’s interpretation and is alleged to have suggested that future Maigret novels might be influenced by the performance.

A box office hit in France, Maigret Sets a Trap was seen by more than 2,500,000 cinemagoers. It was nominated for a BAFTA and won an Edgar Allan Poe award. The film’s producers commissioned a sequel to satisfy a public clamouring for further cinematic adaptations. Released in 1959, Maigret and the St. Fiacre Affair is considered by critics to be a less successful film. Adapted from a novel first published in 1933, the film contains a number of elements that will delight Maigret enthusiasts and Simenonologists.


Leaving behind the first film’s urban environment, the sequel relocates to a small village. Maigret is visiting his childhood home at the request of the Duchess of Saint-Fiacre. She has recently received an anonymous letter stating that she will soon die. When she suffers a fatal heart attack during a religious service the local doctor pronounces she died of natural causes. Maigret is not satisfied with the diagnosis and is convinced the Duchess was murdered.

Tonally very different from its predecessor, the portrait of a once-great family in decline is indebted to Agatha Christie and Citizen Kane. Delannoy once again demonstrating a sympathy for themes present in the originating novel, effectively balances moments of joy and intensity.

Jean Gabin played Maigret one final time in the disappointing Maigret Sees Red. Jean Delannoy declined an offer to return to direct and was replaced by Gilles Grangier. Released in the UK shortly after the finale of the BBC’s highly-praised adaptation featuring Rupert Davies, Grangier’s film was largely ignored. Gabin’s performance is not enough to save the film. Not entirely unwatchable, it suffers from having a director too much in awe of American B-pictures and a lack of enthusiasm for the work of Georges Simenon. Jean Gabin’s Maigret deserved a better final investigation.

Maigret Sets a Trap, Maigret and the St. Fiacre Affair,  and Maigret Sees Red are available to order from Amazon:

Book Review and Interview: The Angels of Hammurabi by Max Seeck


Turbo-charged thriller.

The Finnish government is sent into a state of near-panic when a member of its diplomatic staff vanishes. The only clue to Jare Westerlund’s disappearance is a series of anonymous threats sent before he went on holiday.

Frustrated with the local police force’s lack of progress, the Finnish government dispatches armed forces specialist Daniel Kuisma and Foreign Affairs Ministry assistant, Annika Lehto to Zagreb. Investigating the missing employee’s trail they uncover a tangled web of secrets.

Former peacekeeper, Daniel served in Croatia during the Yugoslav wars. As the investigation intensifies, dark secrets from his past impact upon the present. During the war he served in secret military campaigns. He soon learns that everyone who participated in the missions is in danger. Daniel is racing against time to discover who is murdering his former colleagues before he becomes the next victim.

Max Seeck’s debut novel is an atmospheric, intense, and cinematic thriller. Masterfully plotted, The Angels of Hammurabi plunges the reader into a dark world where nothing is what it seems. With curveballs hitting the reader at breakneck speed, the author ensures that the book’s ingenious conclusion is dazzling and unexpected. A promising start to a new Nordic thriller series.

Impressed with The Angels of Hammurabi I spoke to Max Seeck about the book and his future plans.

Did you always want to be a writer?

‘My initial dream job has been a movie director and / or screenplay writer. But I guess I’ve been driven by my personal need to tell a story, come up with interesting characters, events and plots and gather them into an experience. Make people react, feel and experience new things.’

What inspired you to write about a former peacekeeper investigating a missing person case in the Balkans?

‘Well, a former peacekeeper suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder is unique for one thing. The crime thriller scene has witnessed an alcoholic policeman, autistic female detective, hallucinating investigators just to name a few. They are all smart and ingenious in their own way. I wanted to create a protagonist with an original background. Also having experienced a battle combat means that he must have seen and experienced a lot of awful things – killing people – without being truly evil.’

History and sense of place is very important in The Angels of Hammurabi. How thoroughly did you research events and regions?

‘I began the writing process during a vacation in Croatia. Many events take place in locations I’ve personally been to. We also made a trip to Mostar, Bosnia and walked around the city with a tour guide. She told us about the war – how it was then and how it still affects thousands of lives in the region. However, many places, historical events and details were researched with the help of Google Maps and Wikipedia articles. I cannot even imagine how much more difficult doing a research for a book must have been 20 years ago.’

The Angels of Hammurabi feels very international in tone. Were you writing for a global audience?

‘As a matter of fact I was. I admire Nordic thriller novelists such as Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson – just to name a few – and I think they have done a wonderful job creating an atmosphere where nothing is too localized. You have people of different nationalities and places from all over the world. Also – if you want to make your living writing novels, you cannot rely too much on the relatively small population of Finland. Obviously the goal is to raise interest also in the surrounding countries and have the novel translated into many languages. Having an international tone doesn’t hurt here.’

How long did it take you to write the novel?

‘I started writing in 2013. The first two years I wrote whenever I had time – basically a few evenings a week. I had a few longer breaks – there was a time when I didn’t write for nine months. Most of the non-writing periods were due to my struggle with my own fears and frustration – what if nobody wants to publish this? Is the manuscript even any good? Am I wasting my time?’

Is there much of you in Daniel Kuisma?

‘Despite the things he has done in the past, Daniel is a good guy. And I’d like to see myself as a good guy too. I guess that’s pretty much it. Daniel – just like anybody else – is far from perfect. I hate characters that have no flaws. And I don’t trust people who are making a lot of effort to hide theirs. I think that there’s nothing as beautiful and genuine in a human being as one’s undisguised imperfection.’

Was Annika Lehto modeled on someone you know?

‘In the book she’s described as “young Cameron Diaz”. But on the other hand she looks a lot like someone who’s very close to me. However, her actions and thoughts have no real life source.’

Do you have any thoughts about Nordic crime fiction’s continued popularity all over the world?

‘I think Scandinavian authors and publishing houses have done an amazing job by elevating Nordic crime fiction as a household concept around the world. I think however, that the Nordic scene constantly needs new players to keep it fresh and on its toes. Now it’s time for Finnish authors to really join the club. Because despite of speaking and writing in a language nobody understands, we have amazing – and believe it or not – sometimes even darker stories to tell.’

Who are your favourite authors?

‘Am I being boring if I say there are so many? Within the crime thriller genre I admire authors such as Stieg Larsson, Jens Lapidus, Jo Nesbo and Dan Brown. The Swedish couple that goes by the name of Lars Kepler also writes great books. I’d also like to mention inspiring authors such as George Orwell, Mario Puzo and Kurt Vonnegut.’

Are you going to write a sequel to The Angels of Hammurabi?

‘Most definitely. I have started the writing process.’

What advice would you give to someone writing their first novel?

‘I’m not sure anyone should give advice after having one published novel. However, I can think of one thing that kept me writing even at times it felt desperate and pointless. Be determined. Once you have decided to write a book, don’t let any excuse or anybody else to stop you from doing so. You need to have the compelling need to finish what you started. Whether your book will be published or not, not finishing your manuscript will haunt you forever. Take your time and enjoy the process. It’s never fast or easy. Writing Angels of Hammurabi took me three years. And most of the time I just loved writing it.’

Thanks to Max Seeck and Elina Ahlbäck Literary Agency.

Max Seeck is published by Tammi.

Max Seeck is represented by Elina Ahlbäck Literary Agency.

Max Seeck
Max Seeck