Next month sees the release of a debut crime novel for William Giraldi, a writer and editor based in Boston, who has come up with a tale of darkness and death set in America’s most northern territory: Alaska. Here at Crime Fiction Lover we often think that the closer we can get to the Arctic the better, but in his book Giraldi has also aimed to get closer to nature and to the human soul. Even just a few pages into Hold the Dark, you’ll realise that this new author certainly knows his craft, so we decided to find out more about him and his book…
First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your?
I live and read and write in Boston, Massachusetts. Reading is far more pleasurable for me than writing, and I’m always trying to smuggle in a few more hours of reading time each day. My boys make it difficult. They’re five and two, and living with them is like living with two tsunamis. So my reading and writing life is dictated by these dark-haired beauties who live in my house. I all-too-easily stop writing in order to have a wrestling match with my kids. A wrestling match they always win.
Tell us about Hold the Dark in a nutshell – what will crime fiction lovers love about it?
Set in remote Alaska, Hold the Dark is about the bonds of tribe or clan. The language of this novel demanded a certain poetical register, a pitch toward both darkness and redemption, a tenor adequate to the task of addressing the majesty of nature and the enigma of evil. The violence of the novel is an organic outcrop of its agon with evil. There’s no gloating over the bloodshed in this book, no pride taken in the lives lost. The women and men in Hold the Dark are violent because nature is violent. Living hand in hand with the wilderness, they harbor within themselves an identical wilderness, a savagery just as startling and just as necessary as the savagery on display in the Alaskan wild. I speak here of the outlaw spirit in man, an outlaw spirit that pervades nature and cannot be altered.
Your previous novel Busy Monsters was more of a literary piece. Why did you choose crime fiction for your second novel?
Hold the Dark is certainly a crime novel or noir thriller, but I do think of it as every bit as literary as Busy Monsters, in that its assiduous attention to language is in service of character. It’s deeply concerned with the roiling inner lives of its characters, and it’s deeply concerned with the spirit, with undergoing a religious crisis that possibly leads to a kind of redemption for Russell Core, one the novel’s chief protagonists.
I don’t feel as if I chose a crime novel as much as it chose me, and, as I say, I never thought of this as a crime novel as I was composing it. There’s a series of devastating crimes, of course, and there’s blood enough to fill a pool, but my main focus was linguistic, how language could uncover the mythical dimension of the material.
What made you choose Alaska and can you tell us more about how the setting impacts your story’s atmosphere?
Well, my story centers on these wolves that supposedly steal children from a remote village, and Alaska is one of the only places in America where wolves live freely. I was limited to location because of these wolves, and I was drawn to wolves because they are probably our most mythologised and under-appreciated animal. The setting, this austere tundra, not only affects the story’s atmosphere: it is the story’s atmosphere. Which is why I was pleased when American critics spoke of the landscape as having its own personality, its own character, its own implacable will. That winter scape forces itself upon your soul and there’s no way to escape that.
What about your main character, Russell Core. What’s his deal?
Core arrives at this remote outpost, at the farthest reaches of American soil, in order to reckon with his transgressions, in order to force that reckoning, to make some kind of amends with what he sees as the sins of his past. I think his initial impulse was self-destruction, actually. He arrives to investigate these crimes, these missing children supposedly taken by wolves, because he suspects that he will die in the process. And he suspects that he deserves that death. It’s an embracing of his fate, and that’s dignity of a kind, no matter how flawed he may be.
Symbolic as they may be, the evil isn’t in the wolves, is it? What themes did you want to explore in this book?
No, animals aren’t evil, you’re right. Men and women are evil. It is we who possess the impulse for wanton slaughter. My main theme here is the enigma of that evil and man’s losing contest with nature. Our hubris is legion, but there are still places on the earth where we remain mere rag dolls in the jaws of forces much larger and mightier than ourselves.
What’s next for William Giraldi?
My next contract is for a memoir, actually, and I’m conflicted about that, but I’ll get it done. I also have plans for a novel about Orson Welles, about his famous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds and the havoc it unleashed in pockets of America. And I do have another quasi crime story germinating deep within, but I can’t see it or feel it clearly yet.
Hold the Dark is due for UK release on 11 December, and is already out in the United States. Watch for our review, soon.