Wojciech Chmielarz is a hugely popular Polish crime writer, and is often referred to by critics as “Poland’s Jo Nesbo”, but while he stays largely in the crime genre the literary style in his books is always changing as he challenges both his readers and himself as a writer.
His five books to date in his beloved series featuring Commissioner Jakub Mortka, for instance, have ranged from procedural crime stories, to horror, to the realm of psychological thrillers.
“The problem with crime fiction is that it is a very strong genre, one that has very strong rules and it’s a great danger for an author to write similar books. You know when all the books are simply the same, especially when you are writing a series of books. I was very afraid of doing so. So I was trying to do something different,” he said, speaking ahead of his appearance at the 5th EU-China International Literary Festival.
“I was trying, for one, to develop myself as a writer, and I was trying to surprise my readers with something new, something different.”
For his Gliwice series – Vampire in 2015 and Zombie in 2017 – we are brought close to the classic motif of noir fiction but with a twist, as the protagonist detective Dawid Wolski is a somewhat hapless, walking comedy of errors.
“This is about what I would call the worst private detective in Poland. You know he’s the worst because of his character, and because of his skills, but nevertheless the books are very serious. You know – very black, very brutal,” Chmielarz said.
“I like this character because, to put it simply, he’s stupid. When you write about a stupid character, it’s so fun. Because when you are writing about someone smart, you are always thinking – would he do this? But when you are writing about someone as stupid as Dawid you don’t have to ask yourself this question because you know everything you think, everything you invent, everything that comes to your mind – he would do it.”
While the two series have been extremely well received in Poland and abroad, Chmielarz feels that A Viper’s Den might represent his best writing to date – a psychological thriller about a family whose daughter went missing when they were on holidays in a small Polish village.
“It is a very important book for me because I think that this is my best book. It’s very tragic story, but you know, honestly speaking, I think it’s very good, and far better than The Girl on the Train,” he said with a laugh.
Chmielarz came from a journalism background where he wrote a lot about crime, which is something that prepared him well for his writing career.
‘When I was working as a journalist, and then when I was working in a competitive intelligence company, I was working with former policeman, former secret agents, and so on. And I learned about their work and what they think and I learned a lot about organised crime,” he said. “What does it look like, what are the biggest threats, and so on. It had a big effect on my work, on my books.”
For his next project, Chmielarz said he would work on the 6th instalment of Commissioner Jakub Mortka’s adventures. Although he experiments with the styles he uses, he said he is happy to continue working in the field of crime because there was so much that could be accomplished working within the rules of the genre.
“I love crime fiction and I think that it’s a very, very rich genre,” he said, pointing to classics in the field such as Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River.
“In this field, in this genre, you can write something as good as Mystic River,” he said, “so I think there’s a lot a lot to do in crime fiction for me right now.”