It's always an incredible privilege to get to speak with crime authors about their books, and today I'm particularly excited to share a Q&A with Sarah Ward, author of A DEADLY THAW, coming 9/27 from Minotaur. Sarah's book was an instant hit for me (for details on what I loved about it, check out my full review here). Along with thoroughly enjoying her book, Sarah is a personal inspiration to me. She is the blogger behind Crimepieces, a fantastic crime fiction review blog. She also serves as a judge for the Petrona Award, an award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. I am so thrilled to have learned more about Sarah through this Q&A, and I hope you'll enjoy learning more about her as much as I have.
Crime by the Book: To get things started, I’d love if you would share a brief overview of your upcoming release, A DEADLY THAW (Minotaur; on sale September 27). In one or two sentences, what is A DEADLY THAW about?
Sarah Ward: Lena Fisher went to prison for murdering her husband in 2004 but now, after her release, his newly murdered body has been found in an abandoned morgue. Police seek to discover the identity of the man Lena killed but when she disappears, her sister Kat conducts her own search for answers.
CBTB: Your debut novel, IN BITTER CHILL, received high praise from trade reviewers, readers, and fellow crime writers alike. For readers who are new to your work, do you recommend starting with IN BITTER CHILL? Are the books part of a series? (Note: this is as much for me as for readers of this Q&A! A DEADLY THAW is my first of your books – but I plan to read IN BITTER CHILL very soon.)
SW: It’s interesting. Quite a few readers I know like to start a series from the beginning and, if so, they need to kick-off with IN BITTER CHILL. However, I wrote each book to work as a standalone and when I first wrote In Bitter Chill, I had no idea whether or not it would become a series. Although A DEADLY THAW has the same police characters, it has a new protagonist in Kat who narrates alternate chapters. So although A DEADLY THAW is part of a series, I’ve tried to ensure each book can be read by new readers.
CBTB: While reading A DEADLY THAW, I’ve picked up on the influence of both Nordic Noir and classic detective fiction—the story’s pacing and atmosphere feels very reminiscent of Scandinavian crime fiction, while the story’s central mystery seems like it could be a case for Hercule Poirot to tackle. What do you consider to be the greatest influences on your work?
SW: It’s interesting that you’ve picked up both influences in my books. I grew up reading Agatha Christie and I love classic mysteries so she must be an influence. I hadn’t thought of Hercule Poirot solving the crime though! I think I’m probably more influenced by writers who themselves were influenced by the classic crime tradition – PD James and Ruth Rendell spring to mind. They’re such reliable writers and I reread their books all the time. Nordic Noir has influenced me in terms of setting and also with the emphasis on the impact of a killing. I want to show how a crime can traumatize a whole community.
CBTB: Along with working as an author, you are also a judge for the UK-based Petrona Award, an award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. I’m personally very interested in this piece of your career, as Scandinavian crime fiction is above and beyond my favorite crime fiction subgenre. How did you become involved with the Petrona Award?
SW: The Petrona Award was set up in my memory of blogger Maxine Clarke who was an early advocate of Nordic Noir. The prize is awarded to the best Scandinavian crime novel in translation that was published the previous year. We like to acknowledge the work of both the authors and that of the translators to bring Nordic books to an English speaking readership. This year’s prize was won by Jorn Lier Horst for The Caveman which is an excellent police procedural.
CBTB: Have you read any particularly exciting Scandinavian crime novels in your role as a Petrona Award judge? I’d love to hear your recommendations!
SW: One of my favourite writers is Lief G W Persson whose Backstrom novels are a joy to read. I also like Hans Olav Lahlum who writes very much in the Golden Age tradition. His books are set in the 1960s but often have an important social message. I’m also a big fan of Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir.
CBTB: As if you didn’t already have an impressive enough resume, you are also a crime fiction reviewer at your blog, Crimepieces. I’d love to hear a bit about your history with blogging and reviewing crime fiction.
- When did you begin blogging?
SW: My first review appeared on Crimesquad.com in 2005. It was in the early days of online reviews and blogs hadn’t really made an appearance. However, in the UK, a few crime fiction websites had begun and, as I was such a huge crime reader, the owner of the site asked me to review some of the titles he had been sent. I set up my own blog, Crimepieces, in 2011.
- Did you always have the idea that you might like to transition from reviewing crime fiction to writing crime fiction? (If no, what inspired you to try your hand at writing crime fiction?)
SW: When I first began writing reviews I hadn’t even thought of putting pen to paper. It was only when I moved to Athens, Greece in 2008 that I found myself with time on my hands and I wanted to give writing a go. It took me a while to get around to it but, by the time the blog had started I was half-way through In Bitter Chill.
- Do you feel that your experience reviewing crime fiction has made you a stronger crime writer?
SW: I think all writers need to read a lot but it doesn’t necessarily have to be within their chosen genre. Having read so many crime novels is a blessing and a curse. On one hand I feel honored to be following in such a rich tradition, especially as a female writer. On the other, you do sometimes feel that every subject matter under the sun has been written about. The important thing is to put your unique voice and experience into your writing.
CBTB: Who are your favorite crime fiction authors?
SW: I love the French author Fred Vargas whose Adamsberg detective series is one of the best. I also like Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series and the Norwegian writer, Jo Nesbo.
CBTB: If you could recommend one crime book to the readers of this Q&A, what book would you recommend?
SW: This is so hard but I’m going to go with Agatha Christie’s CROOKED HOUSE. It shows that, in subject matter, Christie is far from ‘cozy’ and it’s such a good tale.