In The Shade - JOHANNA MO

Written by Johanna Mo

For me, writing begins with the characters, and almost always characters who struggle. The Island Murders series was born out of two strong urges: I wanted to write about what it’s like to be the relative of someone who has committed a serious crime and , for the first time, I also wanted to write about Kalmar and Öland, the part of southeast Sweden I’m from. This is how Hanna Duncker came to me.

I let her grow up in a small village on Öland, but the week she graduated, her father was arrested for murder and she left the island. She moved to Stockholm and became a police detective. Her older brother fled too, but to London. After serving his prison sentence, Hanna’s father drank himself to death and when Hanna cleaned out her childhood home, she realised she had to return. Partly because she missed the island, but also because she needed to deal with what had happened. In the first book in the series, The Night Singer, Hanna has just moved back and begins to work for the Kalmar police.

The Shadow Lily is the second book in The Island Murders series. Every book depicts a different murder investigation, but the long arch of the series is the story of Hanna and her father: how she learns to cope with her past and tries to find out what really happened. From the beginning, she has felt that she hasn’t been told the whole truth. Hanna’s last name, Duncker, is not a very common one in Sweden and, even though sixteen years have passed, to many on Öland she is still a murderer’s daughter. This is what has affected her the most. This is her scar. Her father was once a very loving and caring parent, but when Hanna was twelve her mother died of an aggressive cancer and this made her father lose his grip, to start to drink. I wanted this contrast. If the father had not started out as a good parent, he would have been easier to dismiss. The murder he was convicted of was a gruesome one: a woman was beaten to death and then her house was burnt down with her in it.

Even though I write from a third-person perspective, I let the readers get close to my characters and from a few of them I’ve gotten the reaction: How does Hanna Duncker manage to work? I believe that these particular readers haven’t had much experience with anxiety. What Hanna has been through has formed her. She has a hard time trusting people; she is lonely and withdrawn. The move to Öland is an attempt to heal and to change. The thing with anxiety is that it is not always visible on the outside. Hanna is good at her job, maybe in part because of what she herself has experienced. One of her strengths is that she is very empathic. Her partner Erik is in many ways the opposite, he is easy-going and talkative and in the beginning he and Hanna clash a bit. Erik is actually one of the most difficult characters I have ever written he is so annoyingly content with everything.

In The Shadow Lily, a woman comes home after a weekend away and discovers that her husband and toddler are gone. While the man is soon found dead, the toddler is still missing. Both Hanna and Erik work tirelessly to find clues. Another character in The Shadow Lily who deals with anxiety is Lykke Henriksen, whose father abandoned her shortly after she was born. I would say that Lykke is worse off than Hanna because she has a hard time functioning. Lykke’s way of alleviating her anxiety is by depriving herself of food. It gives her a sense of control.

In the English version of the book, there is a story about how Lykke and her mother grew purple-flecked flowers in their garden and used to call them shadow lilies, because they were proof that beautiful things could grow in the shade. In the Swedish version, this story wasn’t needed because this flower is actually called a Shadow Lily. The English name is Toad Lily … and that would have made for quite a different book. I used the flower as the book’s title because of its symbolism. It is a very beautiful flower and it thrives in the darkness. Bad things happen to most people, it is a part of life, but people cope in very different ways. This is the struggle I want to write about. Most people manage to move from the dark shade into something brighter, but not everyone. I am drawn to crime fiction in part because I want to write about what pushes someone to kill, but most of all because I want to portray how crimes affect people – not only the victim and the victim’s family, but also the perpetrator’s family and the people whose job it is to find out what happened.

The Shadow Lily is available now (Headline, £14.99)

Author Photo © Sofia Eckerblad

Johanna Mo

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