Monday, October 03, 2011

Scene of the Crime with Author James Thompson!

If we have Stieg Larsson to thank for anything, we should thank him for focusing attention on Scandinavian crime fiction. Some of us knew long before Larsson's comet crossed overhead that some excellent writing can be found there, and now that the world has met Lisbeth Salander, it's become much easier to obtain the books we crave.

Among those authors of Scandinavian crime I count James Thompson. American-born Thompson has lived in Finland for over a decade, and he's written two excellent books featuring Inspector Kari Vaara that take the policeman all the way from Lapland to Helsinki. I've read Snow Angels and Lucifer's Tears; now I'm eagerly looking forward to the third!

James Thompson
If you'd like to know more about this author, there are plenty of places for you to check out!

Time for the best part-- the interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

I don’t remember. Probably The Count of Monte Cristo or Robinson Crusoe. Something like that. I learned to read well at a very early age, and those kinds of adventure stories captured my imagination, really thrilled me.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

Free time? What’s that? To be honest, I spent so many years writing in my free time that when my hobby became my career, I stopped doing much else. I love my work. I spend some time with friends on occasion, enjoy good food, make sure I spend quality time with my wife, but really, 90% of my waking hours are dedicated to reading and writing. Usually seven days a week, eight to eighteen hours a day. Did I mention my compulsive tendencies?

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

View of Helsinki from Hotel Torni
A couple of years ago, I visited my home town for the first time in a decade. I barely recognized it. The neighborhood I grew up in is a massive parking lot for a regional medical center. I suppose now I think of Helsinki, Finland as my home town. Stay at Hotel Kämp. Learn the history of the place so you can really enjoy the experience. Make sure you have a meal there. I think their reindeer filet is the best in the city. Also eat at Manala and/or Juttutupa, so you can enjoy a traditional Finnish dining experience. If it’s summer, go to the rooftop bar of Hotel Torni. Have a bottle of champagne and admire the view from the best spot in the city.

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Matt Damon
Hmm. Matt Damon. I’m what people, if they choose to describe me in kind way, call a complicated individual. He could capture my sometimes drastic swings in mood and behavior.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

I can go two ways on this. Sherlock Holmes. I loved the stories as a kid, reread the entire works a couple years ago and still loved them. For noir, definitely Big Pete from James Ellroy’s Underworld USA trilogy. The best bad guy ever.

Name one book that you've read that you wish you had written. What is it about that book that made it come to mind?

Given what I write, it may surprise you, but The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. It’s beautiful and touching, and the way Greene captures the melancholy of love is unforgettable. Greene is my all-time favorite writer.

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

The first time I saw one of my books in a store, I had a distinct feeling of satisfaction. I did nothing. The first time I saw one of my books as the centerpiece in the window of the biggest bookstore in Helsinki was more special. I had a feeling of true achievement. I celebrated my first signing by going out to eat and drink with the managing editor who bought the book.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

I was doing an interview in for a large media crowd in Barcelona. It was conducted in simultaneous translation. I was asked, “Is it true that you eat black people in Finland?” I resisted the urge to say, “Oh yes, the eyeballs are the best part.” Instead, the translator and I looked at each other and shrugged. He asked her to repeat the question. She wanted to know if we eat reindeer. I’m still mystified by that miscommunication.

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author?

How will they affect me? Damned good question, and one pretty much all authors are asking ourselves right now. And publishers are too. I haven’t a clue. The world of bookselling is changing on a daily basis and I don’t think anyone has a clear idea its future. As to the devices themselves, I have a Kindle. I prefer to hold a book, but I don’t mind reading from the Kindle, and I’m picky. For instance, I refuse to read a book on a computer screen. As a professional who sometimes needs a book right now, I find the ability to download rather than waiting for shipping indispensable. As an ethical issue, I think electronic readers SHOULD be the future. Dead tree products—think of the vast regions of rainforest destroyed to produce all the newspapers in the world every day—should become a thing of the past. The book lover in me, as a romantic, loves a book as artifact. The touch. The smell. The feeling of turning pages. I hate to see books as paper products go, but things like having the oxygen to breathe that trees produce must come first.

Thank you so much for spending this time with us, Jim. May your book sales do nothing but increase!

Learn More!


  1. Fascinating interview, Cathy. I laughed out loud at the question about eating reindeer. I haven't read this author but I will do so now. The more I learn about writers, the more I realize I'm a normal one.

  2. Barbara-- I'm glad you've decided to read Thompson. I think you'll enjoy his books.

    I'm glad you're normal because I know I'm most definitely not!

  3. I'm hoping to get to Finland one of these years -- I've been as far as Denmark so it's just a plane ride from there, eh?

    I have Thompson's books here waiting for me; can't wait.

  4. Cathe, I'm not normal. I'm just a normal writer. Very different. :D

  5. Beth-- I hope you enjoy them!

    Barbara-- How do you know I wasn't referring to your writing? ;)


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