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

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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

Book News: Kjell Ola Dahl to be published in the UK

Orenda Books signs bestselling Norwegian crime writer Kjell Ola Dahl in two-book deal

Karen Sullivan, publisher of Orenda Books, is delighted to announce the acquisition of World English Language rights for Norwegian crime writer Kjell Ola Dahl’s next two titles in the Gunnarstranda series, in a deal negotiated with Anne Cathrine Eng of Gyldendal Agency, in advance of the London Book Fair.

Karen says, ‘Kjell Ola Dahl is a magnificent writer, an international bestselling, award-winning author (most recently picking up the prestigious Brage and Riverton prizes) and certainly one of the key proponents of Nordic Noir. I am thrilled and excited to have the opportunity to publish his next two novels. Literary, fast-paced, with an uncanny psychological element, and some of the most seamless, tightly woven plots in crime fiction, Kjell Ola Dahl’s books are the perfect addition to the Orenda list, which hosts some of the finest names in international crime fiction. Kjell Ola has been on my wish list for some time, and this is an incredible acquisition for Orenda. I can’t wait to work with him and his inimitable translator, Don Bartlett, to get these titles out in English. I’m looking forward to a long and fruitful relationship.’

Kjell Ola says: ‘I was delighted when I learned that Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books would publish my books. I have heard a lot about her, and I am sure she will do an excellent job for me and my protagonist in the British market.’

Anne Cathrine says, ‘We are proud and very happy that Kjell Ola Dahl’s next two titles in the Gunnarstranda series will be published by Orenda Books. Karen Sullivan is a brilliant, very dedicated and enthusiastic publisher … She already publishes our Grand Master of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen, and has made the English publication of his books a resounding success.’

The Faithful Friends will be published in Spring 2017 and The Ice Swimmer (working titles) will be published later that year.

For more information visit Orenda Books’ website.

Yusuf Toropov Interviewed

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Irish based American author discusses his controversial début novel.

Author of several non fiction books, including Shakespeare for Beginners, Yusuf Toropov is also a noted playwright. His début novel, published by Orenda Books, is a complex and challenging book that compels the reader to question their preconceptions about the war on terror.

When writing  Jihadi: A Love Story did you anticipate controversy?

I did. The book presented itself as a provocation to me, and the premise – a US intelligence agent is accused of terrorism — left me wondering about a lot of big questions. So yes, I expected some people to get the book and others to be taken aback by it. It’s meant to help you connect with people you might not otherwise meet. It’s meant leave you thinking, make you consider challenging your own assumptions, and I certainly knew that sometimes people resist that. Lately, I’ve taken some heat online for daring to talk openly about an American Muslim’s perspective on the so-called War on Terror, which is part of the book. That didn’t come as a surprise.

How did you keep track of the strands when plotting the multiple source narrative structure? Did you use a software package or integrate sections during revision?

It really wasn’t as complex as all that. I didn’t use any special software. There were just two voices to manage, one belonging to a guy who knew he was going to die, and the other belonging to someone who wanted the last word. I moved scenes around, but you do that on any novel.

The use of multiple stylistic and structural techniques to convey the novel’s themes places it firmly within the realms of postmodernism. Is this a reflection of your reading preferences?

Guilty as charged. There’s a big poster of Vladimir Nabokov up on my bedroom wall. He was also a modernist, I think, but I am a PALE FIRE junkie, which is definitely postmodern. John Banville has been called a postmodernist, so has Jorge Luis Borges. All heroes of mine.

In your opinion, is the book plot or message driven?

I hope it’s driven by the characters. The only way I got the plot to work was by listening to them. I want the book to be its own message, whatever’s driving it.

You are working within a genre and use devices more commonly found in literary fiction. Was it hard finding a publisher who would accept the manuscript?

It did throw some people. But I should say, I didn’t even realize I was writing a thriller until I was about 10,000 words in. Genres are a marketing tool, I think. I always approached it as a book first, as something that was meant to tell a story. That’s the ultimate meta-genre: A story you care about as a reader. That’s what I was going for. I’m a true believer in destiny, so I think I found the publisher I was supposed to find at the precise moment I was supposed to find her. Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books gave me some amazing notes on the manuscript. I’m very grateful we connected, and I know there was a reason we did.

Did you at any point consider self publishing?

No.

You actively engage with readers and fellow writers on Twitter. How important is social media in terms of finding an audience?

I think it’s just part of the equation now. One way or another, interactive media is going to play a role in how your work is going to be perceived. To me it just make sense to engage with people.

Jihadi: A Love Story  was issued as an e-book several months before the print edition was published. What, if any, are the advantages of publishing digitally for a new writer?

It’s a double-edged sword. It gives people easier and more immediate access to your book. At the same time, there are some books, and I think mine is one, that benefits from a physical presence. I’m of two minds. Personally, I’d rather read fiction in a physical book, and I think that kind of reader is who I was writing for.

Will we see a second book? If so, when?

You will. I honestly don’t know how long it’s going to take. Books are different from babies, there’s no predictable gestation period. But it’s on the way.

Yusuf Toropov is published by Orenda Books.

Journey to Death: Leigh Russell Interviewed

 

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Leigh Russell’s latest thriller takes readers on a whistle-stop tour of the Seychelles and introduces a new lead character.

The latest book by the bestselling author of the Geraldine Steel psychological thrillers introduces a new character and marks Leigh Russell’s debut with Thomas & Mercer.

Journey to Death is the first Lucy Hall book and it is your debut with Thomas and Mercer. Will we see further Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson novels?

I am currently writing the ninth book in the Geraldine Steel series, and have been signed up to write three more after that. So Geraldine Steel will still be around for a while. Although I may be prolific, I can’t write three series concurrently, so the Ian Peterson will be stopping for now, but he will not disappear. Ian Peterson began his career working as a sergeant in the first three books in the Geraldine Steel series, and the two characters have kept in touch since he embarked on his own spin off series. Each plays a cameo role in the other one’s books, and he will continue to play a role in Geraldine’s books. They may even end up working together again, as they did in the beginning.

Do you have long term plans for Lucy Hall?

As it happens, I do, but the first book in the Lucy Hall series, Journey to Death, has only just been published. It is set in the Seychelles. The second, set in Paris, will be out in September 2016, and the third in the series, set in Rome, will be published in February 2017. When my debut, Cut Short, the first Geraldine Steel book, was published, I had no idea that it would be the start of a long running series. I’m hoping the same will happen with Lucy Hall. But so far all I can say for certain is that Lucy Hall will have at least three adventures. After that, we will have to wait and see!

Is Lucy Hall based on elements of your own personality? If not, what inspired her creation?

My plots are worked out fairly carefully in advance, but I like to allow my characters to develop slowly. In Journey to Death Lucy Hall is twenty-two and quite naive. The events of the novel force her to grow up, preparing her for the adventures that she will face throughout the series. I’d love to tell you that her character is based on my own personality, but I’d have to pretend that I’m brave and resourceful enough to investigate crimes and track down killers. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not in the least adventurous in real life. My challenges take place on the page while I’m sitting at my desk at home. Perhaps Lucy Hall is the woman I would like to be, intelligent, courageous and enterprising.

Your previous books have been set in the UK. Does the tropical paradise of the Seychelles lend itself to a different form of crime novel?

Crimes in fiction are perpetrated by characters who are drawn from human nature which does not change, regardless of setting. That said, location adds to the atmosphere of any novel. Journey to Death is set on a small tropical island which is both an idyllic and a claustrophobic location. The tropical heat inevitably slows the characters down, and this is reflected in the pace of the narrative. The characters are also captivated by the beauty of the island. It would be impossible to set a novel in such a beautiful place without showing how the characters are affected by the scenery. In some ways, the location is an integral part of the story.

How thoroughly do you research your novels?

As soon as Journey to Death was acquired by Thomas and Mercer, I arranged a trip to the Seychelles. I had researched as much as possible remotely, engaging in a lengthy email conversations with local officials, and studying images online. But the sounds and smells of the cloud forest cannot be replicated online, any more than the atmosphere of a place can be experienced from a virtual tour. During my stay on Mahé I visited several police stations and spent an afternoon with a detective inspector at the Central Police Headquarters in the capital, as well as making several visits to the British High Commission. In addition I toured around the island, visiting the beaches, the market, and the cloud forest on the mountain. Of course I could not travel back to the 1970s and live through the political coup where Journey to Death starts. However I was fortunate to be able to work from an eye witness account of the events that took place on the island in 1977, and so the background to the narrative is based on actual events. Only the characters and their story are completely fictitious.

Will you be attending any crime fiction events this year? If so, which authors are you excited about seeing?

I will be at CrimeFest in Bristol and Bouchercon in New Orleans, and probably at Harrogate, as well as appearing at several other literary festivals not specifically dedicated to the crime genre. It is always enjoyable catching up with fellow crime writers, but there are far too many to name them all. I’m very excited about catching up with Lee Child, Peter James, Jeffery Deaver and James Runcie who have all been particularly kind to me. But the list of authors I’m looking forward to seeing is far too long to include here – Mark Billingham, Linda Regan, Rachel Abbott, Mark Edwards, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Martin Edwards, Len Tyler, Mel Sherratt…. I could go on for pages… ! I have been around for a while now, and the crime community is so friendly, that I have many friends among my fellow authors. It’s always fun to see them. In fact, I can’t wait!

Journey to Death is published by Thomas & Mercer

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Thin Ice: Quentin Bates Interviewed

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Author of acclaimed Icelandic crime series talks about his lead character, translating, and plans for this year’s Iceland Noir festival..

After a decade spent living in Iceland Quentin Bates returned to the UK and embarked on a career as a journalist for a nautical trade publication.

In addition to being the author of a series of novels featuring Officer Gunnhildur Gísladóttir from the Reykjavik Serious Crimes Unit he has translated Ragnar Jónasson’s Snow Blind and Night Blind for Orenda Books.

Gunnhildur was a sidekick when you started writing your first novel. Did making her the lead character cause any major story problems which had to be rectified in subsequent drafts?

In the original draft of Frozen Out she was the sidekick to the male protagonist who I fairly quickly realised wasn’t working. He was the archetypal grumpy geezer with a bottle problem and a weight problem. I admit it, I’d been reading too much Wallander and he had rubbed off far too clearly. Fortunately I could see what was wrong with what I’d been trying to do, got rid of the bloke who was so unmemorable that I can’t even remember what name I gave him, and promoted his far more interesting sidekick to the main role.

That happened quite early in the process, so replacing him was quite seamless. I hardly noticed he was gone. What did cause problems came at the editing stage and was to do with Gunnhildur’s age. Originally she was an older character, in her late forties. The publisher wasn’t happy with that and wanted a younger character, someone with a career ahead of her and not with an eye on retirement. They wanted to go much younger, so eventually we compromised. That meant re-arranging the ages of her children and fixing all kinds of conflicts in the plot, and one or two items from the original version slipped through the net.

How thoroughly do you research Icelandic policing methods?

Actually, I don’t research that side of it at all thoroughly. I have some friends in the Reykjavík police force and I can take questions to them, so I’ll ask if you have XYZ, what would you do, or what could you do? I’m more interested in listening to them talk among themselves, hearing how they treat each other, what they chat about, what their attitudes are to various things that may have nothing to do with police work. It’s the incidental details rather than the procedure that interest me. But if there’s anything specific I’m unsure of, I can ask.

You have a long standing connection with Iceland. As a “Scandi-Brit” Is it easier for you to be more critical in your writing about how the country has responded to the aftershocks of the 2008 financial meltdown than would be the case for a native Icelander?

We’re into sensitive territory here. It’s incredibly easy to criticise both the run-up to the financial crash and the aftermath. Both have been pretty disastrous. It has to be borne in mind that a country teetering on the brink of bankruptcy like this is a rare event and it’s virtually impossible not to criticise, especially when, like me, the critic has a vast emotional investment in Iceland. I’m enormously fond of Iceland and it hurt watching the place hit so hard. Friends and relatives lost jobs and homes. It was painfully close to home watching it all happen.

It’s easier to be critical as an outsider as being outside maybe gives you a clearer view. But I’m also very conscious that as both an insider and an outsider, criticism from me is going to be taken badly. I can’t get away with being as openly critical as a local writing in Icelandic for a domestic readership could be. Having said that, when I wrote Frozen Out, I was sure I had gone overboard in describing some of the excesses, but for years afterwards things were still coming to light and in fact I hadn’t even come close.

Icelandic crime fiction is flourishing after years of being overshadowed by by its Nordic neighbours. Why has it taken so long for British readers and the publishing industry to recognise the country’s crime fiction scene?

Ask the publishers, both UK and US. For some reason publishers on both sides of the Atlantic are traditionally wary of foreign stuff and we see a far lower proportion of translated material on bookshop shelves than you’d see in a European bookshop.

To start with there were Sjöwall & Wahlöö, plus a few others, then Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, followed by Henning Mankell’s books. The arrival of Stieg Larsson triggered a rush for Nordic crime stuff, but in reality the bulk of what publisher snapped up in the wake of the Larsson phenomenon was from Sweden, plus some Norwegian books. Danes, Finns and Icelanders stayed pretty much out in the cold, although this has finally started to change now.

There are still only five Icelandic crime writers available in English; Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir who are well established. Then Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson and Árni Thórarinsson were published by Amazon Crossing, although there’s only one of Árni’s books in English (translated by Anna Yates). Then Karen Sullivan came along and took a punt on Ragnar Jónasson, which was definitely the right thing to do.

There are more to come… Lilja Sigurðardóttir (no relation to Yrsa), Jónína Leósdóttir, Ævar Örn Jósepsson and more. The sooner a few more are snapped by by British publishers the better.

Do you regard translation as an art or a craft?

Technical translation is a craft and literary translation is closer to being an art. Translating a novel calls for all kinds of interpretation, especially with those wonderful untranslatable words, swearing, idioms, nursery rhymes, and so on. These things can’t be rendered directly into English so it’s a process of finding roundabout routes and substitutes that equate to what the author would have written if he or she had been writing in English. It’s certainly a fine way of exercising the grey matter.

When translating Icelandic fiction do you have to make concessions for readers who may be unfamiliar with with the country and its culture?

I try not to. In places I’ll add a line or use one of those roundabout routes if something deserves explanation – although the editor has to approve these additions and may well ask for a few more. But I have faith in the readers of translated nordic crime fiction as being discerning, intelligent types who can use google if there’s something they find genuinely baffling, and who hopefully don’t mind being challenged occasionally by something new and unfamiliar.

What are the biggest challenges facing a translator in the age of ebook publishing?

I’m going to stick out my neck here and say that I deplore the number of foreign authors who translate their work into English themselves. I have read a few of these things and I haven’t seen a good one yet – although I’m possibly more critical than many people would be. It’s an exceptional person who can translate out of their native language and into another one. Fair enough, your conversational or business English is good, even excellent. But that’s not quite enough. I know authors who speak outstandingly good English, but who admit that there’s a crucial 2% shortfall they need to overcome to be able to write English themselves.

But still… when I see those words ‘translated by the author,’ that tends to be as far as I get.

Having said that, Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov both wrote in English which wasn’t their first language. But they were exceptional. They must have mastered that final 2%.

Do you have a wishlist of books that should be published in the UK?

The one mentioned above, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Jónína Leósdóttir and Ævar Örn Jósepsson are prime candidates. Apart from them, I’d like to see more of Dominique Manotti’s books translated from French as her fiction is outstandingly good. Then I’d like to see crime fiction from more far-flung places, the Balkans, North Africa, Greenland…

As co-founder of the Iceland Noir festival you are currently arranging this year’s line up. What are you able to reveal about the event?

This year we wanted an all-female line-up of headlining authors, and that’s what we have. Our stars are Val McDermid from Scotland, Leena Lehtolainen from Finland, Viveca Sten from Sweden and Sara Blædel from Denmark.

Thin Ice is published by Constable

Iceland Noir booking info

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Night Blind: Ragnar Jónasson Interviewed

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Acclaimed Icelandic author talks about his influences and being published in the UK.

One of 2015’s stand out literary débuts, in a short space of time Ragnar Jónasson has become one of the most exciting voices in contemporary Nordic Noir. The first instalment in his ‘Dark Iceland’ series Snow Blind was listed as one of the year’s best crime novels by The Independent and reached the top 10 on Amazon’s ebooks chart.

Jónasson’s second book Night Blind offers a return trip to the northern fishing town Siglufjordur for another supremely crafted whodunnit. This cold, dark, claustrophobic region is backdrop to a tangled web of secrets and lies.

Set five years after the events of Snow Blind, Jónasson’s hero Ari Thor is no longer a rookie cop. Now a seasoned offficer he has to battle extreme weather and uncover a secret from the past that may destroy the community.

Tense and thrilling this second ‘Dark Iceland’ novel trounces its predecessor. Orenda Books have announced that they will publish the final three volumes in this series.

At the launch for Night Blind hosted by the Embassy of Iceland in London Ragnar Jónasson discussed the journey to publication, the authors who have had the most profound effect on his writing, and how he feels about being one of Iceland’s most famous authors.

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This is your second book. You’ve got three more to come. How hard was it for you to get a UK publisher?

It took quite some time. As you can understand not many people read Icelandic so it has to be a leap of faith basically to buy a book that you cannot read but you can maybe read a summary of it but not the whole book. I had basically invested a lot of time going to events, crime festivals, in the UK and the US just out of interest and also to get the book noticed. There was probably a few years before I started actively to do that and it was picked up.

When preparing your first novel did you come up with the setting first or the plot first? Was it both at the same time?

I think it was a bit of both. The setting was obvious to me right from the start. It was process of ideas in a notebook coming together.

You were quite visible on the crime fiction circuit. You’re an Icelandic author but you’ve got a lot of UK influences. Readers may not be aware that you translated Agatha Christie’s novels into Icelandic.

Yes. From the age of 17. It was when I had nothing to do one summer so I went to the Icelandic publisher of Agatha Christie and I saw that it had been translated by different people every year so there was obviously no one in particular so I offered my services so he thanked me for coming by and I thought I would not hear from him but then he called me a couple of days later and said I could start and pick any book. That was a collaboration we had for fourteen, fifteen years. I managed to do that as a hobby while I was in school and then in law school and then working. I managed to find time to do one translation each year.

With Snow Blind one thing I noticed is that you are really good on story structure. I’m wondering did you subconsciously absorb that from translating Agatha Christie?

What I learnt from Agatha Christie is firstly I think just by translating so many books whether it was Agatha Christie or someone else you get a feel for the structure and length of a book. Suddenly you see that maybe it isn’t such a big undertaking after all to write a full novel. When I was starting to translate Agatha Christie I would probably never have thought that I had it in me to write a full novel because it’s slightly overwhelming when you haven’t done it. When you’ve done so many books and you see the structure you see that if you can translate it maybe you can write one so that’s what I did. What I hope to have learnt from her is, as you say she was marvellous on plotting, so that’s what I try to do with every book is have as strong a plot as I can and a twist at the end. That’s always my aim. The second point I think Agatha Christie was very good on and I hope to have learnt something from her was the setting. The setting was always very distinctive whether it was a train or a country manor or a boat or something. It was always a big part of the story. In my case it’s a village with the nature and everything. As the series goes on it’s a bigger portion of Iceland that is visited in the books. I always try to describe the setting and visit the setting. It’s always real places that you can look up and see.

Aside from Agatha Christie what other UK authors influenced you?

I would say PD James. She is one of my all time favourite crime writers. She had the best characterisation you can find in crime novels. I was lucky enough to meet her a couple of times and interview her. It was really a dream come true. She really is one of my favourites. I also read a lot of golden age crime. Not necessarily UK but even as well American like Ellery Queen, S.S. Van Dine. Slightly obscure authors now. Then more sort of contemporary UK fiction. I’m a fan of Andrew Taylor. Bleeding Heart Square, I thought that was really good. Then I read a lot of Nordic crime as well of course.

Readers may not be aware of the Sagas influence on not only your work but Icelandic culture in general.

I think there is a lot of influence because that really is our heritage. When other nations may have like great works of art and buildings… The oldest buildings in Iceland are fairly recent compared to other nations. The Sagas are basically what we have to be proud of from history. I think that’s why a lot of people buy books, read books, write books. Everyone feels a connection to books. I think it also impacts the writing style. We tend to write shorter sentences because that’s the way the icelandic Sagas were written. They are short sentences and to the point. Back in those days you had to be careful what your wrote because the material was expensive. It was maybe out of necessity that it was short. I think it sort of impacts the Icelandic writers and this makes a headache for Translators.

I think it’s fair to say that in the UK at least, alongside Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Arnaldur Indriðason you are one of the most visible Icelandic crime writers. You’ve been interviewed in high profile publications and appeared on the BBC World Service. How does it feel to be, in effect, Iceland’s cultural ambassador? Do you see yourself as that?

No, that’s the answer. I don’t. I sort of feel a slight obligation when I’m discussing my books with anyone whenever, wherever on Twitter or in person. I sort of turn the conversation into a conversation about Iceland unconsciously. There have been readers from the UK who have actually gone over to Iceland after reading Snow Blind. That’s really brilliant. That’s sort of a nice addition or a nice bonus to know that people actually just pick up a book and read it and feel inspired to visit the place. In that way if I can be in any way an ambassador for Iceland I’m happy to do that to encourage people to visit what they’ve just been reading about.

Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books and the Embassy 0f Iceland in London for making this interview possible.

Night Blind is available to order from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nightblind-Dark-Iceland-Ragnar-Jonasson/dp/1910633119/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1453764424&sr=8-1&keywords=night+blind

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Book Review: Last Days of the Condor by James Grady

9781843445869

Sequel to the classic 1970s conspiracy thriller.

Soon to be remade for TV, James Grady’s 1974 novel Six Days of the Condor tapped into Cold War era paranoia. A feature film adaptation mined post-Watergate suspicions of government. Starring Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway, the movie was part of a wave of conspiracy thrillers released in the 1970s that included All the President’s Men, The Conversation, and The Parallax View. Four decades on from the original book and film James Grady has revived the CIA operative formerly known as Condor for one final adventure.

Released from the CIA’s insane asylum Ronald Malcolm has returned to Washington D.C No longer known by the codename Condor, Malcolm is now called Vin after Steve McQueen’s character in The Magnificent Seven.

Heavily medicated, Vin is adjusting to normal life after a breakdown. Working at the Library of Congress he has been placed under surveillance by his former employers and receives regular home visits from a case worker. After the death of a CIA operative Vin is framed for murder. Once again on the run trying to stay alive and expose the real killer.

Successfully capturing the mood of a nation increasingly distrustful of its elected representatives James Grady’s first Condor novel resonated with readers coming to terms with the loss of innocence brought upon by the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War. The then relatively original idea of the CIA being one of the most significant threats faced by America is now a familiar trope in political fiction. Grady’s return to his most famous creation updates familiar themes to accommodate four decades of developments in society, politics, and surveillance technology while making the plot relevant and relatively fresh for a generation that may not have read the original novel or seen the Sydney Pollack directed feature film.

An intelligent action-packed spy novel for the WikiLeaks era.

Last Days of the Condor is available to order from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Days-Condor-James-Grady/dp/1843445867/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1444707909&sr=8-1&keywords=last+days+of+the+condor