Krimfestivalen Dispatches #5: Peter Swanson

I got my first taste of US author Peter Swanson, who appeared on a panel alongside fellow American John Hart, yesterday. I was then talking to Abby Endler – who runs the excellent Crime By The Book blog and Instagram account (go here to have a look) – who raved to me about him, saying that he was one of her favourite current American authors. So this afternoon I managed to catch part of best-selling Danish author Jørn Lier Horst’s session (who was giving a one-man lecture on crime scenes in his native Danish), and then hot-footed it to the nearby Ark bookshop to catch Peter in conversation with Frederik Wandrup.

Peter was quick to say that his stories don’t feature a detective per se, instead focusing on the criminal, his or her motives and psychological suspense. Indeed, his work has been compared to Hitchcock, and the comparisons and links with the great British suspense director grew as the conversation went on.

When you look at the premises in Peter’s books they are pure Hitchcock – The Girl With A Clock For A Heart sees George Foss’s comfortable, predictable life shattered when a beautiful woman sits down at the bar, the same woman who vanished without a trace twenty years ago; The Kind Worth Killing starts with a night flight from London to Boston, where Ted Severson meets the stunning and mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing very intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage that’s going stale and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns a little darker when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

Strangers on a plane.

It turns out that Peter – who was a poet before he took to crime writing – had watched all 53 of Hitchcock’s movies and had composed a sonnet for each one. And, like Hitchcock, he features a femme fatale in each of his stories. He did, however, say that the femme fatale is the most cliched character trope out there, so it’s important how you use them. He joked that his mother asked him if he was a misogynist because his female characters are often quite bad.

Peter also talked about the rise of TV and whether TV was the new novel. You can do a lot more with TV these days, but he still thought reading a book is a richer experience. Books are the best form of entertainment but they force you to work a bit harder – you tend to watch TV when you’re relaxing and everything is there for you on a plate.

His first two novels have been optioned for film, one by an English company and will be set in England. As a fan of Hitchcock and the psychological thriller, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll be digging into Peter’s work as soon as I get back to the UK.


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