Interview with Peter Swanson
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I can, but it’s not too exciting. I live in Somerville, Massachusetts with my wife and my cat. I’ve been writing my entire life, everything from poetry to screenplays to mystery novels, and I have an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College in Boston. I have also been a project manager for almost twenty years now at a non-profit in Cambridge. I’m still there, part-time, but spend most of my time thinking up interesting new ways to kill characters off. I’ve now definitively decided that writing thrillers is what I love to do the most.
The Kind Worth Killing starts the reader in the direction thinking it is going to be a version of Strangers on a Train. The back cover blurb even plays up to this. Was this intentional?
It wasn’t intentional, exactly. I have had this idea for many years now about a man and a woman who meet on a plane and it leads to murder. I realized, of course, that this seemed like very similar to Highsmith’s masterpiece Strangers on a Train, so I thought, if I’m going to write this book, I should go ahead and acknowledge the similarities up front. So I put in a Highsmith reference–my character Lily is reading The Two Faces of January–on page 4 just as a tip of a hat. But, actually, I don’t think the books winds up being at all similar to Strangers on a Train.
You have successfully blended a psychological thriller with a crime novel. How hard was this for you?
I think all crime novels need a little bit of psychological thriller in them. It’s always good to know something of the character’s motivations, otherwise you’re in danger of having flat characters, which is death to any book. Whether this was a hard book to write, the answer is Yes, all my books feel hard to write.
In The Kind Worth Killing, some characters are more sympathetic than others but none of them are wholly likeable. Again, was this intentional or just the way the book came together?
It was something that just came together, and it worried me a little, writing a book without a traditionally moral protagonist. Then I decided just to go for it, that the most important thing was that the characters were compelling and the reader wants to turn the pages. (Oh, and as a side note, some readers have told me that they find Lily very likeable, despite her psychopathic tendencies. I kind of agree with them.) Mike’s note; I loved the character Lily, damaged, vulnerable yet so very dangerous…
The mid-novel twist/shock – did you plan it this way? When I read it I couldn’t see how the story could continue, as the writer what process did you go through to almost ‘start’ again?
I didn’t initially plan it, but when I thought of it, it not only seemed to make sense, but it opened up this door for the whole second half of the book. I think you’re right that it was almost like starting again, which I like to think gives the book new energy halfway through.
Can you describe what a typical writing day is and are you a plotter or a fly by the seat of your pants writer?
I write each morning, getting up around 8 am and procrastinating for about an hour and a half. I shoot for five hundred words every morning. I usually know where I’m going with that day’s writing, but I don’t usually know all the plot details of the book. I do quite a bit of seat-of-the-pants writing.
And finally, what are you working on now?
I’m about halfway through a new thriller. It’s about an apartment swap that goes very wrong.
Peter kindly volunteered to be the guinea pig for my new 25 questions interview format. They’re at the bottom of the review and well worth sticking around for…
The Kind Worth Killing: Review
I’ve always wondered what the collective noun for a group of crime writers would be. A murder would seem to be the obvious one but those sneaky crows nipped in and claimed it for themselves although why they need a collective noun is anybody’s guess, have you ever seen one on their own? No, of course you haven’t. They’re cowardly little idiots who hang round in gangs. Their noun should be a ‘thug’ or a ‘dutch courage’ of crows. But it isn’t, it’s a murder and therefore we need one we can claim for ourself and I’m going with ‘Slaughter’. A slaughter of crime writers. Seems about right to me…
But I’ve digressed. It was at the excellent writers’ event, Crime and Publishment, this March that I first heard about The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson. David Headley, of DHH Literary Agency, was telling the ‘slaughter’ about this book he had just read and how at the halfway point there was a twist of such an extraordinary nature he couldn’t see how the book could continue. Well, that was me straight on Google seeing if there was anyway I could find out what it was without adding another book to my expanding TBR pile. But on this occasion even the Internet was spoiler free. Another member of the group shouted out he’d read it and I started to walk over to find out what the twist was, and I kid you not, David actually ran to get there first and stop him telling me.
Well, I had no choice but to buy it. And it’s one of the best decision I’ve made this year. To put it simply, The Kind Worth Killing is a stunning book. By far the best I’ve read this year and that is by no means being disrespectful to Mr Brookmyre and Mr Malone, the other two authors I’ve reviewed since this site went live.
Forget the mid-point twist, which is as extraordinary as David Headley claimed, forget the fact it’s a masterpiece of misdirection and forget the fact it has one of the most compelling plots you’re likely to read this year, The Kind Worth Killing is simply a great book. Plain and simple. The language is beautiful, the descriptions make you wish you there and when finished, it leaves you feeling a little bit uneasy.
In London, Ted Severson meets a women at an airport plane while his plane is delayed. After more drinks than is good for them they hatch a dark plan. But were either of them being serious? Will they go through with it and if they do, will they get caught? And so begins a tale which will have you reading late into the night…
Peter Swanson has created characters that truly stand out and come alive. They’re all compelling and as each chapter is told from a different POV we get to be in all their heads. And some of these heads are seriously disturbed! I can’t say too much without giving away plot details but suffice to say this is one of those books that every time you think you have a handle on where Swason’s going with it something happens that catches you completely by surprise. I have a book out now called Assume Nothing, Believe Nobody, Challenge Everything and in many ways The Kind Worth Killing suits my title better than its own. Nothing is as it seems, nothing is telegraphed and each twist comes relentlessly, one after another, each body blow more powerful than the last, partly because of Swanson’s skill at misdirection and partly because you’re not sure what type of resolution you really want for his characters.
This isn’t a routine body found in Chapter 1, killer found in Chapter 30 type book and neither is it, despite the back cover blurb, a Strangers on a Train wannabe. It’s a thriller, a crime book and a psychological book rolled into one, like nothing you’ve read before.
As soon as I finished I immediately downloaded Swanson’s other novel, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart. I can pay no greater compliment. Links for you to buy both are below.
The rules are simple. No hedging. Choose an answer and stick to it. One word answers are preferred where possible…
- First job? Weeding at a lily farm
- Worst job? Weeding at a lily farm
- Favourite author? John D. MacDonald
- Favourite book? Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
- Favourite book to film adaption? The 39 Steps
- Favourite book to TV series adaption? Brideshead Revisited
- Cat person or dog person? Cat
- Favourite fictional protagonist? Travis McGee
- Favourite fictional villain? Bud Corliss in Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying
- Last book you read? The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
- First book you remember reading? James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
- Favourite film? The Lady Vanishes
- Marvel or DC World? Marvel
- Favourite TV series? Star Trek: The Next Generation
- Favourite actor? Cary Grant
- Favourite actress? Michelle Pfeiffer
- Favourite method of travel? Train
- Favourite food? Steamers (New England steamed clams)
- One way trip on the TARDIS, where and when? Paris in the 1920s
- Favourite city? London
- If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Flying
- Most famous person you’ve ever met? Jacques Cousteau
- What book would you like to see made into a film? A great version of And Then There Were None
- Three dream guests for dinner? Stephen King, Agatha Christie, John D. MacDonald
- And finally, what would you cook them (and don’t cheat – has to be something you CAN cook!) My bolognese sauce