Kathleen Kent’s The Burn is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now!
Scott Montgomery: How did Iceland end up as the major location for Peter’s latest adventure?
Nick Petrie: The first time I went to Iceland, I wasn’t planning a novel – I was just backpacking with my son. But Reykjavik is a quirky city, and the rugged, lonely landscape outside the capital is richly evocative of Iceland’s epic history. The whole experience was deeply compelling. And at the end of our trip, as we waited in the airport, an entire novel appeared in my head, beginning to end.
This had never happened to me before, so I grabbed my notebook and scribbled as fast as I could. I got about twenty minutes before the novel disappeared again, and I spent the next eighteen months trying to recreate that strange, singular vision. The result is The Wild One.
SM: Is it easier to write about a location fewer readers know, or is it more of a challenge?
NP: In each of my books, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to get setting right, whether the California’s tech coast, Denver’s cannabis culture, or the richness of Memphis. As a writer, I’m always very conscious that I’m an outsider, and that readers will definitely let me know if I haven’t done justice to the place they call home.
Iceland was more of a challenge than other settings because, in terms of language,
history, and culture, it felt so very different from the U.S. and thus harder to step into, imaginatively, than other places I’ve written about. For me the breakthrough came when someone described Iceland as the Wyoming of Europe. I’ve spent time in a lot of places where the road comes to an end, Wyoming included, and that comparison helped me understand the personality of the place, and that maybe Iceland wasn’t so different after all.
SM: Was there anything about the city or country you were looking forward to portraying?
NP: Writing about place is important to me – I think of setting as another character and treat it as such. So I was really looking forward to seeing Peter, my protagonist, in conflict with the essential, unchanging Iceland, its landscape and weather. What I didn’t anticipate was how much fun it would be to write about strong, stoic, individualistic Icelanders. No matter what I may have planned for a book, the characters always surprise me.
SM: What’s interesting about the plot of The Wild One is that the reader is piecing things together, but they are a little ahead of Peter. How did you pull off that balance?
NP:That was one of the major challenges of the book. The Wild One is really two stories told in parallel, and that form didn’t evolve until fairly late in the writing. The trick was to keep the tension of each storyline intact, even as I alternated between them, simultaneously managing what information the reader gets from each. There was a lot of tweaking at the end to get it just right. Funny, but if I’d actually set out at the beginning with this form in mind, I don’t think I could have done it. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, the choices writers make out of desperation can turn into something sublime.
SM: Is there something you have to keep in mind when writing a character who suffers from PTSD?
NP: When writing about post-traumatic stress, I feel a huge amount of responsibility to those veterans who suffer from it, especially because I’m not a veteran myself. I’ve done a great deal of research and spoken with many veterans about this. PTS is often vastly oversimplified in fiction and on the screen, and I’ve found that veterans really appreciate a nuanced approach not only to PTS but also to the experience of surviving war, with its complex stew of pride, dignity, humility, regret, and shame.
Veterans reach out to me all the time, telling me how well I’ve captured what they’re going through, and that means the world to me. It also means that I get to convey this same feeling to readers who have not served in the military or gone to war. Because of our highly professionalized all-volunteer armed forces, most people have no idea what life after war is like for our veterans, and helping readers understand the hidden cost of armed conflict is part of my personal mission.
SM: While you deliver a lot of action, Peter always carries the weight of his violence, justified as it may be. Do you feel an author has a certain responsibility when portraying violence?
NP: This goes back to your previous question. I don’t know how other authors feel, but the consequences of violence – and the attractiveness of it – is one of the central themes of my work.
People join the military for many reasons, including family tradition, opportunity, and the chance to be of service to something larger than oneself. But there’s a reason that most boys play with toy swords and toy guns from a very early age. The dirty little secret of war, and the secret reason our young men (and it is mostly young men) continue to sign up to fight, is that war is exciting as hell. I’s a chance to test your mettle, to prove yourself in a certain arena. The chance to be a hero and to blow shit up.
But most who join the military have no real idea of the long-term consequences of combat. Yes, there is pride and a sense of identity, not to mention powerful friendships that will last until the end of their days. But many veterans have told me that the experience of combat has never left them. I know many Vietnam vets who still go back to that war in their dreams, night after night, more than fifty years later. And it’s not just military veterans, either. I’ve talked with long-time police officers and firefighters who suffer the consequences of that challenging work, too.
Sometimes violence is necessary, either individually or as a group. To stop bad people, to correct the course of a society gone off the rails. But there are always consequences to that violence, even if it’s not convenient. Good people pay a price. We saw it writ large after Vietnam, and after almost twenty years of war in the Middle East, we’re seeing it again. As a writer interested in capturing a slice of America on the page, that’s compelling stuff. And also, I think, necessary.
With The Tenant, Katrine Engberg has written an excellent first novel. One with a clever, intriguing concept in addition to interesting, fleshed out characters and good plot twists.
Esther de Laurenti owns an apartment building which contains two young women and an elderly gentleman. As the book begins the gentleman discovers one of the women is dead. So far, not so wild, right?
But then it is discovered that whoever killed her used details from a murder mystery novel Esther is writing, specifically cuts along the victims face. Esther says she’s not the killer but that the number of people with access to the details of her story is limited.
Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case and they are interesting characters. They try to determine if Esther is the culprit or just another victim in the killer’s twisted game.
Katrine is a former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater.
She agreed to let me interview her by email for this first book in a series. The book s getting praise from such authors as Kathy Reichs and Camilla Lackberg.
Scott Butki: How did you come up with the idea for this story?
Katrine Engberg: A few years ago, I was taking a walk with my family in an area north of Copenhagen when I happened to notice a nameplate on the door of a house as we passed by. It read “Family Laurenti.” In that instant, a woman named Esther de Laurenti moved into my head. I can’t explain how it happened, but she was crystal clear to me in every little detail: I knew that she had dyed red hair cut short, drank too much red wine, and was a retired professor of literature working on the draft of her first crime novel. That was the beginning of The Tenant.
SB: Which came first, plot or characters?
KE: Plot, characters, and environment came simultaneously in the form of little jigsaw puzzle pieces that, at first, didn’t really connect. I had ONE character, ONE plot idea, and ONE location; everything else was a blur. But then connections slowly built, more pieces came together, and the story started to unfold.
SB: How did you research this book?
KE: I had to learn everything from scratch. My background is in dance and theater, so my knowledge of police work and forensic pathology was limited — to say the least! Fortunately, people are very willing to share their knowledge with aspiring authors. I rode in a Copenhagen Police patrol car and was allowed to go everywhere, from crime scenes to the ER, with the officers — as long as I kept quiet and wore a bulletproof vest. I learned a lot from those experiences!
SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
KE: To me, crime novels can and should be about more than violence and suspense. I hope readers will connect with — and care for — my characters. I strive to make what is in many ways a wildly fantastical genre into something relatable for them. I myself grew up with crime novels that were also love stories, political comments, and just all in all great literature. That is a literary tradition I wish to continue.
SB: What is it like being described as “already an international star”? And being published already in more than 21 countries?
KE: The short answer is: it’s great! I would be lying if I pretended not to be stoked about my success. Having so many readers has to be the ambition of most writers. That said, labels like “international star” are just … well, labels. What really makes an impression is the direct response I get from readers — in person and on social media. THAT makes me feel successful and happy!
SB: I understand you went from a dance education to working in theater and TV, first as a dancer, then as a choreographer. How did you get from that point to becoming a mystery novelist? And how has that background helped you as a writer?
KE: I grew up in a home full of books and learned to love literature from an early age. My mother was always telling stories to my sister and me — at bedtime and on the long walks up Greek mountainsides that she always forced us to take. She also taught me to love the theater. For me, the two worlds are closely intertwined; telling stories is the same whether it’s done with bodies on a stage or words on a page.
SB: I understand you had to make the decision between being a theater director and a crime author. How did you go about making what must have been a hard decision?
KE: It was actually the easiest decision of my life. I debuted as an author and as a theater
director within the same week in February 2016, so you could almost say I had a vertical tasting of the two careers. Both things went well and had potential, but I had absolutely no doubt in my heart which of the two I wanted to pursue. I actually told my husband on the opening night of the play: “I am giving up the theater. I know life as a writer is uncertain, but I only want to write for the rest of my life!”
SB: What are you working on next?
KE: At the moment, I am writing the next book in the series. It is a very dark and rough book, revolving around a theme of loneliness. So it probably sounds crazy to say this, but I am having so much fun with it.
SB: I call this my bonus question: What is a question you wish interviewers would ask? This is your chance to ask it and then answer it.
KE: What is the significance of the tattoo on your wrist?
Under my wristwatch, I have a tattoo of three dates: My wedding day, the birthday of my son, and the death date of my father. These life markers remind me every time I look at the clock that time is short and life is truly a gift.
The Tenant is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.
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Billy Kring is a MysteryPeople favorite. Whether he and his fictional border patrol agents, deal with issues and evil on the Texas-Mexico line or his private detectives Ronnie Bacca and Hondo banter and and take down L.A. bad guys, he demonstrates and understanding of crime fiction and a craftsman’s approach to writing. We were excited when he asked if we’d like to print this original short story about gangsters and a good employee.
by Billy Kring
He answered Carmen’s help wanted sign one morning and went to work that afternoon as the butcher in her store. His first name was Rick, but he went by McKenna.
Carmen liked him because he didn’t say much, did his work and stayed busy doing things without being asked.
The day Teddy Corso came in, McKenna and Carmen sat at a table eating a lunch of pastrami sandwiches, chips and soft drinks.
Teddy stopped behind Carmen’s chair and played with her hair, a New England Patriots Super Bowl ring prominent on his ring finger. McKenna noticed the tape wrapped around the bottom so it fit Teddy’s finger. Teddy said, “I’m here for the pickup, Babe.”
Carmen moved her head away from Teddy’s hand, “You came by two weeks ago.”
“It’ll be three a month from now on.” He suddenly realized he didn’t know the man sitting with her. “Who’s this?”
Carmen said, “McKenna, he works for me.”
Teddy asked, “You’re not a local.”
“Not for a while.”
“About the time our family took over the neighborhood, right, Carmen?”
McKenna put his sandwich on a napkin, the bite showing like a small knot in his cheek, “How’d that happen?”
Teddy smiled, “What it was, Vincent Gennaro had this area but wasn’t sharing wit others, so…” Teddy spread his hands, “Somebody decided that wasn’t a good thing.”
“I read about it. That you?”
Teddy grinned, tapping two fingers to the back of his head, showing where the bullets went, “I don’t brag, but it happened. People know. So now I make rounds for the family.” He looked at Carmen, “Give me the money, Carmen, and throw in a couple ribeyes. I got other stops to make besides yours.”
“I don’t have the money.”
Teddy gave her a cold stare.
“I can have it in the morning.”
“You better, sweets. You don’t want Teddy Corso mad wit you.”
McKenna went to the meat counter, catching Teddy’s eyes by holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.
“Make it two.”
McKenna cut, trimmed and wrapped the thick steaks in white butcher paper, handing the bundle to Teddy, who said, “You’re pretty handy with that knife.”
“I try to keep my boss happy.”
Teddy said to Carmen as he left, “Tomorrow morning.”
McKenna returned to the table as Carmen said, “He starts coming three times a month, I’ll have to let you go.”
“How often has he been collecting?”
“Only once the first year, but every month since. It crept up fast. Now it’s twenty times a year, plus he’s pushing hard to get in my pants, says he’ll make it worth my while.”
McKenna raised an eyebrow, and Carmen said, “I’ll close this place down before that happens.” She pushed her half-eaten sandwich away and said, “Can you close up? I’m not feeling too good.”
It was a little after ten PM when Teddy tapped on the front door’s glass above the Closed sign. McKenna looked up from the meat counter, and Corso motioned to open the door.
McKenna opened it and Teddy followed him to the meat counter saying, “I’m throwing a party, gonna need another ten steaks. Tell Carmen it’s interest on what she owes.”
McKenna went to the cooler and brought out the meat and used the long thin blade of the knife to cut steaks.
“Hey, you remember this?” Teddy held up a laminated page of a newspaper showing Gennaro’s body face down in an alley. “See, right there? The two holes in the back of his bald head.”
McKenna finished with the last steak and said, “What about the one in his eye?”
McKenna’s eyes changed, “I shot him in the right eye and put two in the back of his head as a message. Papers never mentioned the eye. Then I had to leave town because of the heat. I’m not leaving again.”
Teddy grabbed his pistol as McKenna rammed the knife into his temple and wiggled the blade.
When Carmen came in the next morning, Teddy’s Super Bowl ring was on the register, with a note from McKenna, I like to keep my boss happy.
About the Author: Billy is an author and sometimes actor, and in another life, he was a Border Patrol Agent and consultant on terrorism and international border issues. He has worked in South America, including Columbia and Ecuador, and in Eastern Europe along the borders of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Turkey, as well as Mexico’s southern border. He has also worked in the Caribbean and Pan Pacific, instructing officials on how to handle the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
You can shop his titles in-store and online now.