Not only am I reading this fast paced murder-mystery novel set in Israel in the early 1990’s, the author has kindly agreed to be my first guest on my Saturday’s Book Posts! So, without further ado, please welcome Richard Steinitz!
Richard, in the almost 30 years I’ve known you, you have always been surrounded by books. What made you, a “book exhibitionist” (your term, not mine!) of ELT materials, decide to take the plunge and write a novel?
I never even thought seriously about writing a book, until the Army stepped in!
I had the good fortune to do Reserve service one summer at a small outpost near the triangle border – the junction of Israel, Jordan and Syria, at the meeting of the Jordan and the Yarmukh rivers.
The physical location was beautiful, and nature stepped in with a band of gazelles that wandered around the base. They were small enough and light enough so that they didn’t set off the mines that were scattered outside the barbed-wire fencing, and so they could come very close to where we were. One of our jobs was to sit in a little bunker on the side of the hill, with a tin roof over our heads to keep the sun off, and a huge telescope inside it. The job was to watch the movement of Jordanian Army vehicles, going up and down the road that parallels the border on the Jordanian side, and write down in a notebook every one that drove past. The job was boring, to say the least, since only half a dozen or so army vehicles drove down that road in a given day (and not many more civilian ones). The telescope was for us to be able to see whether they were military or civilian vehicles, and if possible, to identify the units they belonged to, by the flashes painted on them.
So I spent a bit more time watching the gazelles than I probably should have, and really regretted not having a camera with me to photograph them.
This combination of gazelles, telescope and boredom rattled around in my mind for a long, long time. It seemed to me to be a great idea for a story of some kind, even though I had no experience in story-writing and no intentions of doing any writing.
One day, and I cannot even remember when, the seed germinated and I started to write – without any real plan or outline. I had no idea what the final story would look like, or what would happen in it. It took me seven years to write what became “Murder Over the Border”, though I did do a few other things too.
You chose to write a murder-mystery novel. Who are your favorite murder-mystery writers?
That’s easy – Robert Parker is definitely Number One. He wrote quite a long series of books about a private detective called Spencer – with no first name. I love these books, because they are very sparsely written, with very neat text and no superfluous words at all. The stories are really gripping, and you have a great feeling of identification with the main character.
I really like Dorothy Sayers, the English author of the Peter Whimsy series. She is out of favor these days, due to some anti-semitic remarks in some of her books, but that does not detract from their quality – or so I think. And lastly, John Sandford, the author of the “Prey” series, which take place in Minnesota and feature Lucas Davenport as an on-again, off-again police detective. These are quite violent in part, but the violence is always a legitimate part of the story – it is not there just to titillate the reader. His Minnesota settings make me want to visit there as soon as I can.
You write in English and have lived in the USA , England and in Israel. What made you decide to place the setting in Israel?
Well, Israel is the place I know best, having spent over two-thirds of my life here. And the events that inspired the book took place here. I think writing about my life in the USA, or about the UK, would be much more difficult, but that is not to say it could not be done – it just would require a lot more research.
Are you working on another book already?
Yes, I am. It is quite different in many ways – I’m writing it in the first-person rather than in the third person narrative, and it is only partially concerned with Israel. It does have a Jewish theme to it though and it takes place is several locations – so what I said in the previous question really is true. I’ve had to do a lot of research on locations and events, and to tell the truth, I really like that.
Thank you, Richard, for being such a pleasure to interview. And a big:”thank you” for lending me a hard copy of the book– I don’t own an e-reader! Off to continue reading – have read more than half and am in suspense!