From Sweden to London -A killer thriller with links to Jack the Ripper..
Where to have a holiday to remember? A location that’s a keeper?
Two to be precise – Falkenberg and London where The Keeper is set – the next great thriller from Johana Gutstavasson…. Talking to the lady herself about her deadly destinations….
Wow your thriller takes in and links a modern day mystery to perhaps one of the most famous serial killers in the world. How did you think of this plot?
It was in 2015, I was in St Katharine Docks for my eldest son’s first encounter with Santa, and after an exhausting morning (for the three of us) we went with my husband and son (I just had that son at the time!) for a stroll in the neighbourhood. I just visited the Docks once before and I thought that it would be interesting to read about the History of those cobbled streets. I bought a book about Tower Hamlets and realised that Whitechapel was part of it… I know! I should have known, it but didn’t. Then, when I read about it, I learned that one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Elizabeth Stride, born Gustafsdotter, was Swedish and coming from a town located very close to Falkenberg, where part of my characters live. I thought: this is a sign!
I had no idea about the Swedish link? Is this well known in Sweden?
I do not think this is a well-known fact in Sweden, as Elizabeth Stride is only famous for being a Ripper’s victim and she had been living in the East End for quite some time when she got murdered.
How did you choose and research the locations?
When I wrote Block 46, I decided to set the investigations between London and Sweden as these two places define me, as a woman and person, since I met my husband, more than a decade ago. They are both fascinating for complete different reasons: London is a world capital where culture and art “boil” as we say in French, and Falkenberg is a quiet summer destination which completely shuts down on all other seasons.
Any surprises when researching the novel?
I knew the female condition was devastating at the end of the XIXth century in the East End, that’s why I decided to talk more about Jack the Ripper’s victims than the serial killer himself, but I didn’t know to what extent: most women had to become a prostitute to bring bread to the family table…
You’ve incorporated two main Swedish locations. What are they like in real life?
Falkenberg is where my husband’s family has a summerhouse. So I’ve been visiting the lovely town for years, in all seasons. It’s a truly stunning place and I was so surprised no one ever decided to bury a few corpses there, so I decided to do it! Halmstad I know less: I’ve just been passing by, so I did more research on the matter. Finding the right lake was not an easy thing either, but Torvsjön was the perfect setting for my lovely cadaver!
Did you go on the Ripper walking tours?
I didn’t! I visited the places with my father and very good books as wonderful guides that made us travel through time: from Maxim Jakubowski, my translator who is a Jack The Ripper expert (The Mammoth book of Jack the Ripper), Robert Clack and Philip Hutchinson (The London of Jack the Ripper then and now) and books from French Stéphane Bourgoin and Michel Moatti, our national experts on the subject.
You’re so nice but yet you write some very dark books. What do you do to get away from the darkness ?
As I have 6 months old twins and a 4 year old, I do not relax at all (I don’t even sleep!) and I am wondering when I will be able next to relax! I do not need to get away from the darkness as it’s not devouring me. I like mind games and I am passionate about psychology and the nature of evil, which drives me to write what I write, I suppose… To be honest, I am always surprised when people tell me my novels are dark… A few days ago, I finished a short story for a Spanish publication and my father, who is always my first reader, had to sit down when he read the ending. He looked at me and asked : Are you really my daughter? Sadly for you, yes, my lovely daddy, I answered!
You are a mix of a family – Swedish, French and living in England. Is it important for you to mix this into your novels (it’s very unique!)
You forgot the Spanish roots! And trust me, when I am upset, I am very Latin! I just happened to mix it all as there are so many comical situations linked to the fact that we speak constantly four languages at home and that we come from two different cultures: Scandinavians versus Mediterraneans. It’s a little bit the ice (my Viking of a husband) and the fire (that would be me) loving each other and fighting against each other and thank god, the ice can melt the fire, if not I would completely exhaust my poor husband! It also gives me the opportunity to create another layer, as I absolutely love writing a story and see it build like a Russian stacking doll: the last twist contains a last twist…
With the final word going to Emily Roy or Alexis from your novel:
Emily Roy (the profiler) will answer then. Alexis is currently writing and does not want to be disturbed. But Roy is lacking some social skills… apologising in advance…
What was going through your mind when in this case?
Do I really have to answer that? I felt that we were played. And we were.
What was your main fear?
Committing the same error as in the Ebner case.
What’s next for you?
I am heading to Falkenberg tonight.
Thanks Johana! BRILLIANT book and Can’t wait to chair your event at Newcastle Noir in May – Tickets here
BookTrail Boarding Pass: Keeper
Twitter: @JoGustawsson Web: johanagustawsson.com