Marking the publication of Peter Swanson’s second crime thriller The Kind Worth Killing, I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by the author and his thoughts on his murderous female characters! Swanson burst onto the crime writing scene last year with his debut novel, The Girl With A Clock For A Heart, described by Dennis Lehane as ‘a twisty, sexy, electric thrill ride’, and no doubt The Kind Worth Killing will hold the readers in similar thrall.
Opening with a brilliant homage to Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers On A Train, disillusioned husband, Ted Severson, embarks on a random conversation with a woman at an airport bar, bemoaning the state of his marriage. A plan is hatched to divest Ted of his troublesome and possibly unfaithful wife Miranda, but how many secrets does his potential partner in crime, Lily, harbour herself, and will this murderous scheme come to fruition? Told in alternate narrative viewpoints from the three characters, in different timelines, Swanson carefully inveigles us in a plot full of surprises, violence and leaves the reader truly appreciative of the old adage regarding the female of the species. The characterisation of the two female characters, Miranda and Lily is exceptionally well done, twisting and changing our perceptions of both as this tale of passion and murder progresses. Along with the satisfying allusions to Highsmith, Christie and amateur detective Nancy Drew, it was this aspect of the book that intrigued me the most, and here’s what Peter had to say,
“My mom was halfway through reading my new book, The Kind Worth Killing, and she jokingly commented to me that I must be a real misogynist. I was kind of shocked, and asked her why she thought that. She replied: “All those devious murderous women in your books.”
I got her point. In my first two published novels, there are a total of three very bad women, variations on the classic femme fatales, ladies who will kill to get what they want. These women are villains, and yet, I had never thought that creating them showed any kind of anti-women streak in me. I’ve always loved villains, and find them often more interesting than the dull protagonist, always trying to do the right thing.
Of course, female villains can quickly become clichéd. We all know the classic femme fatale, the beauty who uses her sex appeal to talk dumb men into doing bad things. I have nothing against this archetype (especially since I’ve used it myself)—it’s created so many great fictional characters, from Phyllis Nirdlinger in James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity to Maddy Walker (played by Kathleen Turner) in the movie Body Heat. Femme fatales are often (always, really) sexpots, but they are also always the smartest one in the room.
When I realized that my new book was going to have two murderous females in it, I wanted to make sure that they were different. While Miranda is, in many ways, the classic femme fatale, Lily, who is essentially the protagonist of the novel, is not in that mold at all. While not asexual, her sexuality is, in no way, her defining trait. Her main goal in life is a peaceful existence, living alone, free from drama. She is also almost certainly a sociopath, willing to do whatever it takes to guarantee this peaceful existence. Here’s the thing: I like her. Quite a bit.
I also know that one of the reasons I might be so fond of Lily is that she is a fictional creation in a fictional world. Let’s face it, if you read the crime section of any regional newspaper, the violent crimes of the world are being committed by men, and often against women and children. My book is genre fiction that I wrote to hopefully entertain readers (that was the plan, anyway). It was fun to create a devious, brilliant women who murders off the wrongdoers in her life, and I hope it’s fun to read about her, as well.”
Peter Swanson is the author of two novels, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, and The Kind Worth Killing, available from William Morrow in the United States and Faber & Faber in the United Kingdom. His poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Soundings East, and The Vocabula Review. He has won awards in poetry from The Lyric and Yankee Magazine, and is currently completing a sonnet sequence on all 53 of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts. Visit the author’s website here – at Facebook and on Twitter @PeterSwanson3
THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson is out now (Faber & Faber)