Inger Frimansson:

The Company I've Kept

You look so nice and decent, how is it that you write such horrific novels? I'm often asked that kind of question. And the answer is, I didn't exactly choose to, I more or less was compelled to. The characters I meet up with in my fictions, they just seem to take over. ...

Before becoming a mystery writer, I'd written about fifteen books, mainstream novels mostly, some poetry, some books for children. Those works were singularly free of crime - no murders, no brutality. And, I have to confess, no career breakthrough either. In those early novels, I often wrote from a woman's perspective. I believed strongly that women occupied a weak position in society, socially, financially, biologically. I had hoped that if I wrote about the travails of all those poor women dealing with their inferior status, I'd be able to change the world for the better .. ,. But I gradually came to realize most people didn't care to read about things like that. As a matter of fact, without the encouragement of readers to sustain me, I myself tired of the subject. And it was in that very time that Justine came on the scene - Justine Dalvik, the main character of my novel Good Night, My Darling!

Justine came to me virtually fully formed; it fell to me merely to tell her story. The notable fact about her was that she had had a deplorable childhood. Her mother died when the girl was four. Her father remarried - his secretary Flora, a woman without scruples or patience. At school the girl was bullied. After all, her name rang rather strange, and she had no mother. Children can be cruel. I remember one thing that motivated me to write the book was my appalled fascination with the bullying phenomenon. It went on when I was a child, it goes on today. I was not a bullying person myself, neither was I bullied. I was one of the silent ones who stood by looking and did nothing to try to stop it.

The novel would start when Justine was already grown up. She was about 45 years old, more or less getting on with her life (that's the way I saw her first). Still, she was at a disadvantage. You must remember she was both physically and emotionally scarred from childhood. It was my obligation to help her get revenge - Justine: Justice - but how? That was the question. At that point in the writing, the only thing I knew was that it might happen that at most one or two persons were going to be killed. And how do you kill people? That was something else I didn't know. Neither did Justine.

I worked as a journalist for 30 years. My earlier novels I had written while I was on leave for short periods of time, and only now and then. I no longer work as a journalist. If you just have a couple of weeks a year at your disposal, you don't have sufficient time to do the research necessary in order to create a credible world for your novel.

In any event, I felt compelled, as I say, to help Justine get her revenge. I looked around the peaceful community where I lived. Suddenly it seemed so boring, so dull. I decided to send Justine out into the world. So I let her meet Nathan and fall in love with him. Nathan was a bit younger than she, and quite different from her. He was an adventurer, divorced, and had been married several times. At the time of their meeting, he was starting a travel agency for intrepid adventurers, and was going to take a small group with him on a test trip to the wild jungle of Malaysia. He asked Justine, "Do you want to come along, it's a place where no white woman has ever been?" Of course Justine wanted to go, to follow him, she was so in love with him. I think Nathan was in love with her too. But maybe he had a semi-conscious motive as well. Maybe he was interested in seeing how many hardships a woman of her age could bear, a woman who wasn't at all used to the outdoor life.

In order to describe the hardships, it became necessary for me to experience some of them. Thus there was no other way but for me to make my way to the wild Malaysian jungle (though maybe I wasn't the first white woman to do so). Yet the necessity was absolute. Details are so very important to give verisimilitude to a plot.

Nor was I used to the outdoor life myself. No, I am not Justine, but both she and I quickly realized what a rough rugged ordeal lay ahead. You know, it isn't possible to walk in the jungle, you have to crawl, you have to slide in the mud, and you often stumble and get thorns from evil bushes stuck in your fingers. Justine and I were among the oldest members of our respective groups, and the younger members often had to wait for us to catch up. And when at last we caught up, they were eager to continue! It was unbelievably stressful. And then there was the heat and the humidity. With the relative humidity at 90 per cent, the minute you entered the jungle, the process of putrefaction started in your clothes. More disturbing still were the leeches. They came at you even if you tried to shelter yourself in tight garments. They still ended up on your skin. You didn't feel any pain but there you were, bleeding profusely, and of course that wasn't very agreeable. The bites looked like the Mercedes' icon - such a detail is a bargain for an author.

At night we slept on the ground. We didn't have a tent, just a little piece of plastic over our heads. It turned out that wasn't enough. Every evening it started to rain - cats and dogs. They don't call it the rain forest for nothing! Everything was wet. Nothing would ever be dry again.

Included in Justine's group was a sexy young female photographer, her name was Martina. Nathan had engaged her to compose a brochure about the new travel agency. But soon into the trip Justine began to suspect Nathan and Martina were having an affair, one that transcended business interests. Justine's nerves at this point were close to shattering; she herself was on the verge of a breakdown. Indeed I noticed as I was writing how she was getting more and more furious. Then one morning when she went down to the river to wash away the caked mud from her body, she spotted Nathan and Martina walking closely together. Without informing Justine, they had taken off in search of elephants to take some pictures. Too late - it was then Justine broke.

I can reveal at this point that Justine happens, just happens, to find just lying there in the jungle an appropriate murder weapon, and a very effective one at that. She would never have found that kind of weapon anywhere in Sweden. A blowpipe. I tried firing - blowing into - a blowpipe too; I wanted to know what it felt like when you put the device to your lips and ... blew. Otherwise how would I know to describe it?

Two persons die in Malaysia. I can further reveal that Justine had a great deal to do with their deaths. Of course she's suspected and the police investigate her, but no one can pin the crime on her. No one has any proof. So she is free to go back to Sweden. And so she does. But now that she has tasted revenge, she likes the taste. Now nobody can stop her, not even me, her creator! And something strange happens. I notice that she pulls me into the ongoing murder spree. She needs my help and I am constrained to help her, even if I don't want to, even if I'm sometimes sickened.

When I showed the manuscript I'd written to my publisher, I think he thought I'd written something extra, something diverting between what I usually wrote. Even I didn't quite understand what I'd been doing. The book was published, and, to my great surprise, it was nominated for Best Swedish Crime Novel by The Swedish Academy of Crime Fiction. I couldn't believe my good fortune. Evidently I had written a crime novel! Then, not only was the book nominated, it actually won the Award! And people bought the book and read it! The publication now underwent a process quite different from my earlier publications. Suddenly - and for the first time in my life - foreign publishers expressed interest in my writing and bought the rights. Especially in Germany there's a huge interest in my books. With the American edition, Good Night, My Darling has now been translated into nine languages. The novel, then, signalled the breakthrough I thought would never come. And so I came to understand this is the kind of reading readers enjoy - vicariously, I trust.

My characters have continued to murder. I don't want them to do that. All the time and with all my heart I try to stop them. I like them. I don't want the m to spoil their lives. I've got a responsibility for them because I am their progenitor. I try to tell them, Be careful now! Don't do that! Stop drinking! Don't be so damned jealous! At first they seem to be listening, but later on they don't, and then they start to act out all in their own individual ways. Indeed one of them made me kill off a man whom I liked very, very much. If! had resisted (I couldn't, really), there would have been no novel at all. What a dilemma that would have been!

Unlike most other crime authors, I write from inside the mind (and heart) of the murderers, from inside the unhappy, mostly quite common persons who suddenly find themselves in a situation they can't extricate themselves from in ways other than by using violence. I am very interested in the human mind. I never dwell on the investigative process in my stories. Yes, cops sometimes are present, but they're not the main characters. I am not interested in the solution of the crime, only how it can happen.

Up till now I've written about 25 books, seven of which are thrillers. I prefer calling these latter books psychological thrillers.

The latest one is a stand-alone sequel to Good Night, My Darling. It's called The Shadow in the Water.

I felt I had to follow up on what happened to Justine and the others closest to her (who were still alive when I left them ... ). Justine was never caught in the first book. How was she now? Did she feel guilt for she had done? The new novel was published in 2005 and it too was awarded The Swedish Academy of Crime Fiction's prize for Best Swedish Crime Novel. I'm the only Swedish female crime writer who has won the award twice. Of course I am very proud of that!

This spring I've just completed a new novel, a semi-autobiographical work: Curled Up Like an O (Ligga som ett O).

Perhaps it will provide the answer to the question so many of my readers continue to ask, namely, why I who look so nice and decent still write such horrifying books.

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