We loved Anya’s book, Where the Devil Can’t Go, and from the Amazon reviews – so did you! We caught up with her to find out a little more about it…
Why did you decide to set the book within the Polish community of London?
I’d wanted to write a crime novel for years but was struggling for a way to make it leap out of crime shelves already crowded with London-based police procedurals and thrillers. The light bulb moment came when my (Polish) husband suggested creating a Polish private eye working among London’s Polish community – many of whom live in my part of London, the East End. Setting my PI on collision course with a female police detective over the murder of a Polish girl she’s investigating gave me potential for conflict and a chance to gain an insight through her into the Poles’ mindset, rich culture, and turbulent recent history.
Have any members of the Polish community read the book, and if so what did they think?
Lots of them! And not just friends and family. As I’m English that was a bit scary. They’ve been kind enough to say that I’ve captured something of the Polish spirit: an intriguing combination of small ‘c’ conservative values with an anti-authoritarian streak which I think comes from a constant struggle against invaders and foreign occupation. One Polish reader review cited a ‘brilliant insight into the Polish mentality and the subtle differences between the generations of immigrants’ – which I was absolutely thrilled by.
Janusz is one of those interesting characters who is good at heart but prepared to break a few laws if needs be. What do you think attracts readers, especially crime readers, to that sort of character?
My feeling is that when we read crime we want to be scared and thrilled by the prospect of bad people doing terrible things, but also to see goodness, by and large, prevail. If our protaganist/hero is too straightforward a good guy it would all become a bit Pollyanna-ish, so we like them to have a few flaws. And while in real life we like people to follow the rule of law, the maverick acting alone and by his own moral code seems to be a powerful and appealing archetype.
It is great to have a female detective in a British crime novel, was the gender of this character important to you from the outset?
Yes. I thought that the interaction between a staunchly traditional Polish man and a modern-minded female cop would make for a sparky and intriguing relationship. The title comes from a Polish proverb ‘Where the Devil can’t go he sends a woman,” and yet, as I hope I manage to get across, there’s a surprising respect and admiration for feisty women among Polish men.
What has been the most surprising reader reaction to the book so far?
One Polish lady wished that Poles really were as polite as I portray them. But she also brought a cake, flowers and wine to dinner, and sent a thank-you card…
The book has an amazing sense of place. Do you visit Poland often and have your visits there inspired scenes in the book?
I’m always delighted to hear that because evoking a sense of place is perhaps my toughest challenge as a novelist. I’m one of those writers who needs to visit a place in order to describe it, so I did spend time in the Baltic seaport Gdansk, the setting for several scenes in the book. It was no hardship since Gdansk has an atmospheric medieval old town, beautiful Hanseatic architecture, a terrific museum dedicated to Solidarity’s struggle against Communism, and the best gingerbread in the world…
Will your next book feature the same characters?
Yes. Readers have given DC Natalie Kershaw and Janusz Kiszka such a warm response that I’ve been persuaded to ensure that their paths cross again!
You’ve had some amazing quotes from other crime writers for this debut novel, what is it like having your book read by writers your respect and admire? Scary?
Scary as hell! When I heard that Val McDermid was reading ‘Devil’ in consideration for her New Blood Panel at this year’s Theakstons Crime Festival I was completely stressed out – but when I got the email inviting me onto the panel, it was up there with the happiest moments of my life.