The Intel: DA Mishani

DA MishaniDA Mishani was destined to be a crime novelist. A literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature, he worked as an editor of fiction and international crime literature before hitting it big with the publication of his first novel. The Missing File was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award.

Now the second in his Inspector Avraham Avraham series, A Possibility Of Violence, has been translated – it won the prestigious Bernstein prize for best Hebrew novel in 2014 – and is getting all sorts of acclaim. In the novel, a suspicious device is found inside a suitcase near a nursery in Tel Aviv. The children are taken to safety; a man is caught fleeing the scene. Then comes the phone call: ‘the suitcase is only the beginning.’

Both A Possibility of Violence and The Missing File were shortlisted for the Sapir Award, the Israeli equivalent of the Man Booker Prize.

Where did the inspiration for A Possibility of Violence come from?

A Possibility Of Violence was born from an uncanny conversation I had with my 4-year-old son Benjamin. One day he suddenly asked me, “Do you know I had a father before you?” I looked at him, shocked by what he had just said, and then he added, “But he’s already dead.” This conversation haunted me – and finally inspired a similar scene in the novel I started writing.

What kind of man is Avraham?

Unlike most literary detectives, probably, he’s a trusting man, somewhat naïve maybe, and also partly insecure. But he’s passionate and truly caring for the lives of people he meets during his investigations, and he’s imaginative – and when he believes he knows the truth he doesn’t let go.

Your crime novels have won and been shortlisted for numerous awards – do you feel the weight of expectation on your shoulders when you sit down to write?

I think that on the contrary, the fact that my novels have gained some appreciation from readers and critics, helps me keep going, avoiding the voices most writers probably hear around them, whispering, “is that really any good?”

You’re a scholar specializing in the history of crime literature – do you find that a help or a hindrance when you came to write your first Inspector Avraham novel?

A huge help. I believe you can’t be a good crime writer without being first a good crime reader, because writing a good crime novel is initiating yourself to a glorious literary tradition that you have to respect and follow, while betraying it, but just a bit, in order to speak with a voice that is also your own.

A Possibility Of ViolenceYou have probably read more detective novels than most people. What are the traits of personality that link fictional detectives down the decades and across the continents, do you think?

Most of the literary detectives that made the genre’s history were vain but their vanity was just a cover for their deep insecurity and solitude, traits that I really like about them. Most of them pretended to be genius but only in order to hide their blindness, which is what I find fascinating about them. And some of them were the most humane characters ever written in literature, faithful witnesses for human sufferings and pain.

Who are your own favourite crime writers?

Henning Mankell. Fred Vargas. P.D. James. Karin Fossum. Hakan Nesser. Jan Costin Wagner. Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall. Georges Simenon. And many more.

We’re familiar with the political situation in Israel, but Tel Aviv, like any other city, must have its share of social and domestic crime – how important is it to you to accurately portray this aspect of the city?

I don’t believe that writers are, generally speaking, good sociologists (apart from Balzac, maybe?) I’m definitely not sitting down to write in order to describe a society or denounce its problems. But I do believe that we are all social-beings and so in a way complex “products” of the societies we live in – and that when you write well a personal story you always write a social story too.

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

Oh, they can be so painful sometimes. I go to my office early in the morning, after leaving my children in school, and then I sit for hours in front of the computer, sometimes four hours and sometimes even eight. The hardest part is that you can never know how well you’ll do today and that weeks can pass without a truly good page…

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That you can’t rush it.

How do you deal with feedback?

I love good feedback and I find it very helpful to my writing. Bad reviews I pretend not to read.

Give me some advice about writing…

Me? I can maybe try and give advice about writing crime: start from feeling a certain proximity and even intimacy with your criminal and your crime.

What’s next for you?

I’m about to write the last pages of the third Avraham novel, The Policeman Who Went Down The Stairs And Disappeared. And then, who knows? But I guess Avraham and I will not separate for long…

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