Thursday, November 11, 2021

Dickens and the Communist regime: an interview with Bogdan Hrib

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the latest instalment of our 9mm interview series, which returned in 2021 after a hiatus last year. 

This author interview series has now been running for over a decade, on and off, and today marks the 231st edition. Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Romanian journalist, engineer, publisher, university professor, and author Bogdan Hrib to Crime Watch. I had the pleasure of hanging out a little with Bogdan back in May 2019 when we both attended the wonderful Newcastle Noir festival. I was chairing a panel on Australian and New Zealand crime writing, and he was part of a fascinating panel showcasing Romanian crime fiction. Plenty of fun chats were had in the green room!

Bogdan and I had some good conversations about loving crime fiction and our local crime writing communities in smaller markets - and how if you're passionate about the genre you can end up wearing lots of hats across writing, reviewing, events, and more! Along with writing his own crime fiction and publishing that of others, Bogdan is also a past vice-President of the Romanian Crime Writers Club and the organiser of the International Mystery & Thriller Festival in Râșnov (2011-2015). 

His own crime writing centres on Stelian Munteanu, a book-editor with a sideline doing international police work. The latter three of six novels in the series have been translated into English - I read and enjoyed the second of those, The Greek Connection, earlier this year. The latest book, Resilience, was published in Romania early in the pandemic, and in English this autumn. 

Bogdan Hrib is a busy man with many hats, making a real difference to Central and Eastern European crime writing. But for now, he becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm. 


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Difficult to chose one, so… from US – Jack Reacher, from the North – Kurt Wallander, from UK: Jimmy Perez from Shetland and John Rebus from Edinburgh.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I think that Oliver Twist. Why? Because I received the book as a present, I believe… and because it was about a boy from an untouchable city – London. During that period, in Romania, the Communist regime tried to prove that Capitalism was vulgar, creepy and almost dissolute… The books by Dickens are very social… So they have published a lot of classic sad tales and not contemporary happy-ending’s novels for children, like Paddington Bear or others.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
When I was 12 years old, during the 70’s, I’ve stayed for a couple of weeks in a hospital for a small surgery and I’ve written a sort of Romanian adventure novel inspired by The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. I was born next to Titan Park in Bucharest (which is also described in Resilience) and in the middle of the artificial lake of that park it is, of course an… artificial island. And for my teenage mind it was like a far, far away mysterious island. It was handwritten and nobody read it because it was a real imitation of Verne’s novel. During the 80’s, I’ve written some very short stories… for fun. Some of it a bit SF… also nothing published. During the early 90’s, I was photojournalist for an important daily newspaper and I wrote dozens of feature stories. My debut crime novel came very late, in 2006…

4. Outside of writing and writing-related activities (book events, publicity), what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Reading and travelling… but in a way are also related with writing. Reading crime fiction for all around the world (I’m also a publisher and that’s part of my job. A great job!) and travelling with my wife and a camera on the left shoulder, discovering new places – wonderful cities (also with incredibly hidden coffee shops) or beaches, woods, castles, mountains… This could be a fantastic life.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Only one… I can’t imagine more for now. So…Foișorul de Foc (literally The Fire Tower), build in 1890, is a 42-metre high building. It was used in the past as an observation tower by the firemen. Foișorul de Foc had a double role, as it was also designed to be a water tower, too. However, after the building was finished, the local water utility had no pumps powerful enough to fill it with water. (Legend or not, I can’t tell it!) Foișorul de Foc was used by the fire fighters until 1935, when it became ineffective, as more and more high buildings were built in Bucharest, and introduction of the telephone reduced the need for a watchtower. In 1963, it has been transformed into a Fire-fighters' Museum. (quotes from local history pages)

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
When I think of the classics maybe Sean Connery or Michael Caine. Nowadays Colin Firth, he is probably same generation with me.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or a bit special to you for some particular reason, and why?
Always the more recent work, in this case Resilience. But Resilience it is also an elaborate novel, with a lot of history hidden inside the pages and my personal feelings about our times, about fake-news and social media and, of course, about the social pattern of my fellow Romanian citizens. It is like a cry or like a manifest… No, no, it is just a crime novel!

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
My debut novel was published by… me, being the Crime fiction publisher at Tritonic! So I didn’t have a problem with acceptance, but when I saw for the first time my name on a cover it was really a shock, like a part of me left my body and my mind and went between these covers. A shock and happiness. And another absolutely great moment was when a reader asked me for the first autograph…

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival
I’m remembering two experiences about autographs… First one when a Romanian reader, (My wife and I were with a big group of tourists) ask me if I am Hrib and demanding me an autograph on a boat sailing around Malta Island. This was the happy moment, the other (more strange) was when, at a book fair after I’ve just sold one of my books to an unknown reader I’ve ask him if he wants also an autograph because, how lucky for him, I’m the author of the novel. He answered immediately very angry ‘Good Lord, why do you want to soil the book?!’ and he ran away. No comment!

Thank you Bogdan. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can discover more about Bogdan at the Corylus Books website, or in this video interview, where Newcastle Noir founder Dr Jacky Collins – AKA Dr Noir – chats with Bogdan and translator Marina Sofia about Resilience.

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