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January 20, 2016

Stefan Ahnhem talks to

In Victim Without a Face, I wanted to create a larger-than-life story populated by thoroughly normal three-dimensional characters, living their ordinary lives, like you and me. I wanted them to act and think as most of us would if put in the same extreme situations.

First I had to ask myself, what is normal? Are the characters in most crime stories normal? I thought about the many lonely, haunted white men who star in a certain type of crime fiction. They listen to jazz, classical music or opera. They drink too much, they might be into drugs, or at the very least they have a sex addiction.

Now, I don’t know how many real world homicide investigators’ lives look like this, but I do know that being a homicide investigator is, in the end, just a job. And most people with jobs also have lives. They spend time with their families, they watch TV, perhaps they even cut the lawn now and then. Sure, some of them are having affairs – but others are preparing for a marathon. Some of them are, probably, just like you and me.

So which traits did I give to Fabian Risk? First off, I gave him a big burning love of music from the eighties and nineties. This was something I had been hugely looking forward to. After writing a string of Wallander TV episodes, I had become pretty tired of finding new pieces by Jussi Björling for him to listen to. Working with Risk felt like being released from prison. Suddenly I could listen to everything from Kate Bush to Kraftwerk. I could make my main character a contemporary music expert – instead of a wine connoisseur like many of his colleagues.

I also gave him a wife with her own career, as well as the kind of small-scale marriage problems that most of us have experienced. I gave him two amazing kids, who he loves deeply but neglects when he is caught up by a case. I made him naïve, and occasionally foolish. I made him unsure of his own choices. I allowed him to make mistakes, and I forced him to live with the consequences. I gave him feelings, and the ability to cry. Finally I gave him his work, which I suppose is his one and only drug.

In other words, I tried to mould him into a ‘normal’ person, perhaps someone a bit like me.

One of the Swedish reviews said that Fabian Risk was “abnormally normal”, and I loved that phrase. Yet some of the reactions to his character were so strong that I started to question whether I had made him normal at all. One reader-review (yes, I know I shouldn’t read them, but that’s about as easy as passing a traffic accident without looking,) said that Fabian Risk was one of the most unsympathetic homicide investigators set foot on this planet. Another said that Risk was such a terrible parent, he should be burned alive and lose custody of his children.

The scenes that caused most consternation were those in which Risk, alone in the family’s house with his teenage son, exchanges text messages with his son instead of walking up the stairs, knocking at the door and entering his bedroom. By the time Risk realises his son might be in danger, he has not seen him face to face for two days.

Sure, it’s a bit lazy of him not to go to his son’s bedroom. But haven’t we all done lazy or stupid things, and expected to get away with it? Certainly I often communicate with my teenage daughter like this. Sending her a text message saying that dinner is ready is so much more effective than entering her bedroom and picking my way through enormous piles of clothes. Should I have custody of my daughter taken away from me? I hope not.

I suspect I would have received less flak from readers if Fabian Risk was an alcoholic investigator with a sex addiction who tries his damnedest to mess up his life. Then we could look at him from a distance, shake our heads and feel sorry for him. When the distance is gone, and a character is close enough to be a mirror, your own flaws and mistakes are brought into focus. And sometimes we don’t always like what we see.

Now the time has come for you all to get to know Fabian Risk, and when you do, I hope you won’t forget that he’s only human.

Stefan Ahnhem

I would like to say a huge thank you to Stefan Ahnhem for talking to me. So much hard work goes into writing a novel.


From → book review

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