JJ Marsh on Behind Closed Doors
Location is an essential factor in all Triskele Books. Why Zurich? Is it a case of write what you know?
More write what I don’t know. The city reminds me of a swan; serene and graceful on the surface, but significant movements are going on below the waterline. The quiet, discreet façades of Zurich mask powerful activity within. The real action happens behind closed doors.
Which came first? Location, characters or idea for the story?
The idea, definitely. I read an article about The Phantom of Heilbronn. A series of crimes had been committed across Germany; a policewoman shot, two elderly people strangled, multiple burglaries and a gypsy family killing. Police found the same woman’s DNA at each scene. ‘Die Frau ohne Gesicht’ (The Woman without a Face). Who was she? That’s when the idea took hold.
And led to the choice of place?
Yes, once I’d sketched the story and knew the basic concept, events had to take place in a financial centre. I’d lived in London for years, and knew Milan and Frankfurt reasonably well, but none of those places had the precisely right atmosphere for this book. I couldn’t set it anywhere else than Zurich.
How much research was involved?
I find that question almost impossible to answer. I’ve lived here for eight years now and I think I’ve been subconsciously researching all that time. I pick up information and store it because I’m sure I’ll use it one day. Two areas where I purposely sought advice were polo and psychiatry.
Where did your characters come from?
Beatrice had already been established in my imagination for years, under a different name. I just needed to find the right story for her. Karl Kälin owes his appearance to a man I met briefly about ten years ago. Since then, he’s existed only in my head as I’ve invented a personality, a history and a social life for him. Last year I bumped into the original again. It was an eerie experience, meeting one of my characters in the flesh.
Why wasn’t Kälin your main character, as he’s the Swiss detective? Or even the secondary character, instead of Chris Keese?
The whole series is about Beatrice and her battles. In Behind Closed Doors, Kälin has to be as much of a mystery to her as the case itself. If we had an insight into his mind, all tension in their relationship would be lost. Part of the story is Beatrice decoding signals and symbols and learning to read situations. I find that people underestimate cultural differences in neighbouring countries. You go to Kyoto or Delhi and expect people to do things differently. Yet in Europe, the assumption is that when English is the lingua franca, the same applies to culture. It doesn’t.
Will future books feature Switzerland?
Not as the main setting. I’ve completed three books of the Beatrice Stubbs series and plotted the remaining three. Each takes place in a different European country or countries. The sense of place is fundamental to each story. However, certain characters might return.
Which contemporary crime writers, apart from Triskele authors, do you admire for their use of settings?
Where to start? Val McDermid, particularly for A Place of Execution. Not only place but period done with impressive subtlety. Kate Atkinson, for making the environment vital to the plot in a book such as One Good Turn. Alexander McCall Smith enriches his stories with a wealth of local detail, be it Botswana or Edinburgh. And Kathy Reichs for making her dual identity an advantage. Donna Leon’s Venetian backdrop, Scotland according to Iain Banks in Complicity, and Peter Hoeg’s Copenhagen in Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. There are many, many more.
The Porsche thundered through the trees. Belanov steered with his left hand, allowing his right, complete with TAG Heuer, to rest on the gearstick. Her colour was high and he could sense her exhilaration. He allowed the vehicle a four-wheel slide as they arrived at the cabin.
“OK, Ms McKendrick. I’ll be five minutes. Would you like me to leave the music on for you?”
“You know what? I think I might be safe enough to come in while you get your stuff. Apart from anything else, I could use the bathroom.”
Belanov repressed a grin and bowed like a gentleman as he opened the passenger door and offered his arm. He ran through his list. White wine and snacks in fridge, vodka in freezer. Fire laid, clean sheets, camera charged. And in the bedside drawer, a high-quality twist of cocaine. Czech.
Appellation: DOQ Rioja
Blend: 50% Tempranillo, 40% Garnacha. 10% Mazuelo
Ageing: 16 months in 100% French Allier oak
Age of vines: 50-60 years
Very dark garnet colour, almost purple. Intense early nose of boot polish lifting to potent blend of incense, lavender and smoked meat. Initial dark fruits in the mouth give way to toasty round tannins in the middle and a high-toned black plum finish. Drink now, or cellar several cases to enjoy over the next decade. (Score: 92/100)