Continuing Orenda Books’ Finnish invasion, Kati Hiekkapetto is joining me today to talk about her research in Serbia. In her latest book, The Exiled, protagonist Anna, also the lead character in The Hummingbird, travels to Serbia where her father came from. She investigates a murder and gets caught up in the refugee crisis.
When I wrote my first novel, The Hummingbird, I didn’t have a series in my mind. It felt big and hard enough to write one book to the end. However, the moment that I started writing a scene where Anna briefly describes her past to her new colleagues, I knew that I want write more about it. Even I want to know what really happened to Anna´s father. It was the moment when the idea of series begin to develop and the moment when the seeds that were to become The Exiled were fertilized.
To reveal the truth of Anna´s father I had to make Anna to travel to Serbia, to her childhood home. I lived in Kanizsa, Anna´s hometown, between 2005 and 2006, and since then I have visited regularly. When I was researching The Exiled, I made three trips there. I wanted to absorb the unique atmosphere of the town and region around it, find locations for the story, talk to the people and do some background research.
Anna´s hometown in Finland is an imaginary northern Finnish coastal town, very much like my birth town Oulu, but yet not same. When I wrote The Hummingbird and The Defenceless I drew a map of the town and imagined what it looked like. This time writing was different. I set my story in a real place.
I had three specific aims in Serbia. I wanted to interview local police about their work in murder cases (and compare their procedural with that of the Finnish police), I wanted to learn more about Romany situation and I wanted to find someone who could inform me about prisons and life-sentence convicts in Serbia.
The easiest part were Romanies. When I lived in Serbia, my daughter’s best friend was a Romany girl and through their friendship I got to know her mother and other family and community members. I very rarely use real people when I build my characters, but this time, in The Exiled, Judit is partly based on the mother of my daughter’s friend. Like Judit, she is also a local Romany activist, doing amazing stuff for the community.
I found the prison guard via a friend who is a film director and therefore knows lots of people from every possible branch. Actually, this man was much more than an average guard, but because he told me confidential stuff about prisons in Serbia and lifetime convicts, he wanted to stay unidentified and anonymous. There is a scene in The Exiled where Anna goes into the Subotica prison to talk with a prisoner. Everything he tells her about conditions in Serbian prisons is sadly true.
The police proved to be the most difficult. A neighbour of my friend is a police officer and he promised kindly, twice, to speak with me. Twice we made a date and twice he did not appear. I even went with my friend to ring his doorbell. When we saw some movement behind the curtains, but the door never opened, I knew he would not talk to me. He was scared.
After these attempts I went to the police station in Kanizsa, told who I am and what I wanted. All I got was five huge men in uniforms staring me like I was an alien from outer space. No way they would have said anything to me.
Finally, one evening I accidentally met a friend of a friend on the street. He was a lawyer and bells started to ring in my head: a lawyer must have some kind of relationship with police. He promised to help. Next day I had an appointment with the chief of police and he was very helpful, giving me all the information I needed. If you know someone who knows someone who knows someone in Serbia, you will get what ever you want, good or bad.
After all that, I think that one I day I may even write another story with Anna in her childhood home. Who knows, maybe she even moves back there…
The Exiled, published by Orenda Books, is available in both paperback and as an e-book and you can order a copy online here: The Exiled
Murder. Corruption. Dark secrets. A titanic wave of refugees. Can Anna solve a terrifying case that’s become personal?
Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?
Chilling, taut and relevant, The Exiled is an electrifying, unputdownable thriller from one of Finland s most celebrated crime writers.