Day two of the Krimfestivalen in Oslo saw more English-language panels, which was obviously good for me. Hidden away in a breathless schedule was the appearance of rising star of British crime fiction Joseph Knox, whose debut novel, Sirens, has won heaps of critical acclaim. I was excited so to see Joseph talk, appearing as he did alongside sprightly-dressed Swedish author Stefan Anheim and Iceland’s Yrsa Sigurðardóttir in the Norli bookshop. In fact, one of the things this festival has done very well has been to interact with the local book community, staging events and panels in book shops near to the Cappelen Damm publishing house main venue.
So, Joseph Knox then. Young, humble and talented. His debut novel Sirens, which came out in January is a brutal, coruscating urban noir set in Manchester. It uses well-worn tropes – a supremely fucked-up, luckless detective (Aidan Waits) who gets himself into scrape after scrape after going undercover in the city’s drug underworld – but somehow manages to feel fresh.
The fact he titles each of the four acts of the book with Joy Division album titles made it a winner in my mind. Joseph, you had me at Closer.
In the moderator’s chair was Kari Birkeland, and discussion soon turned to Manchester itself, which looms large in the book and is a character all of its own. Joseph, who had worked in bars and clubs before he landed a job as a buyer for Waterstones, said that he often walked home after his bar jobs and on those night walks he saw first-hand the beauty and danger of the city. He also said that Manchester was the place where he first got his heart broken… as well as his nose. (He later expanded that story to me in a chinwag stage-left, saying that the nose-breaking incident happened on Valentine’s Day. He was single at the time and so was his sister, so they both went out together on a misery date. He ended the night being punched and with his nose broken.)
Sirens feels very real, so Kari asked Joseph about research. There’s a lot of drugs and drug use in Sirens, but Joseph, because he had worked in the bars and clubs, was all the research he needed to undertake. The books also deals with police corruption, which presented its own problems, Joseph explained – while his police contacts were initially keen to help him, as soon as he mentioned he was intending to cover police corruption, they shut up shop.
One of the things I enjoyed about Sirens was that it was very visual – descriptions of the city leapt off the page, and it’s so ripe for an adaptation it’s untrue. So I asked Joseph if there were any deal in place to bring it to the big or small screen. He told me that he had declined all offers because he intends to write a lot more books and didn’t want any TV or film adaptation to overshadow his written work.
Finally, Joseph said he’s now working on book two – a sequel to Sirens which sees his protagonist Aidan Waits embroiled in a murder case (based on a real-life story).