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Author interview: Peter Swanson

Published in the Sunday Times

Peter Swanson, author of All The Beautiful Lies. (Author photo: unknown.)

 
What’s the one book our world leaders should read?

I’d have them read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s the bleakest vision I’ve read about a post-apocalyptic world. Maybe it would do its part in preventing one of our leaders from reaching for the nuclear button. If not, it’s still riveting fiction.

Which book changed your life?

The first Agatha Christie novel I read was Sleeping Murder. It’s not her best, but I fell in love with mystery novels because of her, and I’ve never turned back.

What music helps you write?

I listen exclusively to movie soundtracks when I write. They create a mood but they also fade into the background. Lately, I’ve been listening to Jonny Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread and James Newton Howard’s score for Red Sparrow.

The strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I’m always looking up information on Google about how to murder someone, questions such as “How long do you need to hold someone under water for them to drown?”.

You’re hosting a dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?

Stephen King, Kate Atkinson and David Mitchell. If I was allowed to invite dead writers it would be Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Kingsley Amis.

What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?

On the occasion of the UK publication of my second novel, The Kind Worth Killing, my wife bought me a first edition of Darker than Amber, my favourite Travis McGee novel by John D MacDonald. I love the book, but I also love the memory of that night.

What books are on your bedside table?

I’m reading The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson. The next book I’m hoping to read is James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss and then next on the pile is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, because I never like to be too far from my favourite novel.

What would you tell your younger writing self?

Stop trying to be the next Hemingway and start writing thrillers. Another way of phrasing this would be to tell myself to write the books that I’d want to read.

What did you edit out of this book?

I write extensive histories for all of my main characters. Sometimes those histories make it into my books and sometimes they don’t.

How do you select the names of your characters?

I have used multiple ways to select names, including baby name books, genealogy sites, plus just scanning my own bookcase. Lately, I’ve found a couple of good surnames by taking walks through cemeteries and reading the headstones.

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson is published by Faber & Faber, R275

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An imagined extension of a real past makes for a riveting novel, writes William Saunderson-Meyer of Anton Svensson's The Sons

Published in the Sunday Times

The Sons
*****
Anton Svensson (Sphere, R295)

Anders Roslund and Stefan Thunberg, authors of The Sons. Picture: Supplied.

 
This powerful epic of a Swedish family whose lives are blighted by crime is riveting. Though this is part of the Made in Sweden series and is following on Svensson’s earlier book The Father - an enormous critical success – it can be read as a stand-alone.

Anton Svensson is the pseudonym of Stefan Thunberg and Anders Roslund. Thunberg is a celebrated screenwriter, responsible for the Wallander television series, based on Henning Mankell’s novels. Roslund is an award-winning investigative journalist and crime writer, who is also half of the Roslund and Hellstrom writing duo, whose books have sold more than five million copies.

The novel takes strands of fact from the past and with aplomb weaves them into a tapestry of what might have happened next. What constitutes the past in The Sons is inspired by the real events that form the basis of The Father.

The impetus for The Father came directly from Thunberg’s life. Though he and his mother lived conventional lives, his father and three brothers moonlighted as Sweden’s most notorious bank robbers. Dubbed the Military Gang for their precision strikes and their readiness to use violence, they netted millions of kronor before being captured.

It was only then that their mother discovered that the apparently successful construction business that the family ran was, in reality, a front. Stefan, though privy to some of their crimes, never participated.

The Sons, which is now fiction and not based on real events, begins with the eldest brother, Leo, being released from prison and trying to reconstitute the gang for one last heist.

Much of the psychological tension comes from the interplay between the innocents of the family and the father, Ivan, and Leo, who take familial loyalty as an absolute given. Failing it being given voluntarily, they are willing to enforce it with unflinching brutality.

Stefan, centre, with his brother Carl and his father, Boris. Picture: Anna-Lena Ahlström.

 
A seminal event in their early lives is when Ivan beats his wife nearly to death, if not for then 14-year-old Leo’s intervention. Leo washes out the blood and explains to his brothers: “What happened here has to stay here. That’s how it works in a family.”

Here is the core of this family’s tragedy: domestic and child abuse, alcoholism, violent crime and terrible secrets. The surprise is not that the family is shattered by a tsunami of pain, but that any of them later manages to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The theme is of the father’s sins being visited upon the sons. Leo’s plan is to steal, for a second time, the millions seized during their arrest, which is now housed in the Stockholm police station.

John Broncks is the detective who put the gang behind bars in the first novel and now suspects Leo of planning another job. But Broncks is to discover that it is his own brother, Sam, also freshly released from prison, who is Leo’s key accomplice.

Broncks is now in a quandary, as he owes his brother an enormous debt – a life-saving intervention that protected Broncks from their abusive father. @TheJaundicedEye

Book details

Book Bites: 1 July

Published in the Sunday Times

When She Was GoneWhen She Was Gone
***
SA Dunphy, Hachette, R285

David Dunnigan is in turmoil when a shoe belonging to his niece, Beth, is delivered to his doorstep. Thing is, she was wearing the shoes when she was kidnapped 18 years earlier, while she was with him. He has never forgiven himself and that has ruined his relationships and his career as a criminologist. Who left the shoe and why? Is Beth still alive? Dunnigan’s hopes revived, he delves into Dublin’s seedy underworld where his quest takes him to a chilling psychiatric asylum run by a mad shrink and his psychotic sidekick. Then to an Inuit village in frozen Greenland where trafficked slaves are worked to the bone in a fish factory. A thrilling read that takes you to the extremes of human cruelty. Gabriella Bekes @gabrikwa

The Long ForgottenThe Long Forgotten
****
David Whitehouse, Pan Macmillan, R285

A cantankerous professor discovers a black box flight recorder of a plane that went missing 30 years ago, and unlocks a story that spans decades, generations, and continents. A young man named Dove works in an emergency dispatch call centre until he starts getting excruciating headaches that present themselves as flashes of someone else’s memories. Twenty years hence a cleaner by the name of Peter Manyweathers discovers a love letter with a list of rare flowers in a library book, and sets off on a quest for adventure – and love. How do these stories fit into each other? Beautifully intertwined and skilfully crafted, Whitehouse spins a narrative that leaves the reader aching for more. Anna Stroud @annawriter_

The ReckoningThe Reckoning
***
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Hodder & Stoughton, R300

There is something relentlessly grim about Sigurðardóttir’s Icelandic noir novels. The setting is a cold, mostly unfriendly atmosphere of grimy police stations, dimly lit parking garages and a country that is as isolating as it is small and claustrophobic. The characters are unfathomable yet fascinating. This is the second book in the Children’s House series. The detective Huldar and child psychologist Freyja’s careers have both suffered because of the last case they worked on and now they are investigating a chilling case – family secrets and gruesome murders with severed hands and feet found in odd places. Their feelings for each other also complicate matters. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt

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RIP David Goldblatt (29 November 1930 – 25 June 2018)

David Goldblatt, captured by Francois Guillot / AFP.

 
Prolific South African photographer, David Goldblatt, has passed away aged 87.

Goldblatt gained recognition for his photos documenting apartheid-era South Africa, as of 1948 through to the present.

His body of work includes On the Mines (co-authored with Nadine Gordimer), Some Afrikaners Photographed (with essays by Antjie Krog and Ivor Powell), In Boksburg (with Sean O’Toole), South Africa: The Structure of Things Then, and The Transported of Kwandebele: A South African Odyssey (in collaboration with Brenda Goldblatt and Phillip van Niekerk.)

Goldblatt is survived by his wife, three children and two grandchildren.

On the Mines

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Some Afrikaners Photographed

 
 

 

In Boksburg

 
 
 

South Africa: The Structure of Things Then

 
 
 

The Transported of KwaNedebele

 
 

Author Q&A: Chris Carter

Published in the Sunday Times


Chris Carter, author of Gallery of the Dead.


 
If you could require our world leaders to read one book, what would it be?

Any book that could teach them to be humble, tolerant and understanding. It seems that most of the world has been lacking in those basic human attributes of late.

Which book changed your life?

To be honest, no book has really changed my life. I never read very much — as a child or as an adult. Writing became part of my life more by chance than by choice.

What music helps you write?

I can listen to just about anything, but if I have a choice then definitely rock music.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I have done a lot of strange things while researching for a book. Mind you, I’ve done a lot of strange things while not researching for a book as well, but maybe lying inside a coffin to see how it feels would be top of the list. That was a little odd.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?

Can it be musicians? They are much more interesting than writers. In that case I would have Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and Nikki Sixx. Can you imagine the party afterwards?

What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?

I would have to say I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. Great story.

What is the last thing that you read that made you laugh out loud?

An article about Brexit in the UK. All of it is a joke.

What are you most proud of writing?

Every single one of my novels. For someone who never even considered writing a short story, writing nine novels so far is quite an achievement. I am very proud of that.

What keeps you awake at night?

My cat. He keeps jumping on and off the bed.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I would tell myself to start earlier. I started writing when I was 42 years old.

What did you edit out of this book?

A lot. My editing process is very thorough. With every book I write, I end up editing a hell of a lot out of it. I can’t remember exactly what I cut, but it amounted to about 15000 words.

How do you select the names of your characters?

At complete random, but I do use a rule. I only use names that are easy to pronounce no matter in which country the reader is. I once stopped reading a book because I could not pronounce many of the characters’ names. It was annoying. All my characters have easy names no matter which country you’re in — Mark, John, Jennifer, Carlos, Barbara, etc.

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