Ines Eberl is an Austrian law historian and practising lawyer as well as a crime author. Her novel Salzburg Death Dance is her debut mystery novel. It explores the shadowy and dangerous underworld of the art trade. At its centre is art expert Hans Bosch, who begins a dangerous investigation. It has met with a great reception, not surprising, if you consider the range of talent Ines Eberl brings to it.
She met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about the legal system and criminal dissociation.
Do you think there are any key dates that stand out in terms of advances within the legal system regarding its treatment of women and what do those dates say about political trends?
To answer your question it is necessary to have a look at Austrian history. Emerging from a mostly peasant society the situation of women after 1st World War was difficult and it became despairing during the Third Reich under the Nazi regime. The legal situation caused social, political and economical discrimination against women. Motherhood was highly regarded and abortion was under pain of death – Hitler needed soldiers.
While German women rebuilt their country after the 2nd World War and started careers, Austrian women returned to the kitchen fire when their husbands came home from war. It was not until 1975 when abortion was legalized under certain circumstances and women got the right to a professional life and even a passport without the allowance of their husbands. In 1992 the Austrian government made a law against discrimination and in 1997 women were permitted to wear their maiden name after marriage. A step to keep their identity.
Today Austria is as far away from equal status of men and women as ever. In terms of economical equality the Gender Gap Report of 2010 of the World Economic Forum ranks Austria on position 92 from 134 countries. Usually Austrian women earn 25% less than men – for the same work and position. That puts Austria behind Lesotho and Uganda and several developing countries. And political trends in Austria are not promising. Right now we are going through a discussion about adapting the Austrian hymn to modern times and change the words …home of great sons to …home of great daughters and sons. The conservative party yet announced anticipation and an opinion survey showed no interest among the population.
As long as only mother and wife are role models for Austrian women no change of the legal system will help them out of their underprivileged position. German-born and stemming from a family of historians and lawyers I never had a problem on my career path.
Do you think female killers are motivated by different things than male killers?
State of the science is that differences between male and female killers are significant. Women mostly kill tactically, perfidiously and in their social environment. Men attack directly and often in the heat of the moment when an argument escalates. Men kill to dominate their victims while women kill to free themselves from domination. For women it is a question of self-protection, self-esteem and self-preservation.
In terms of female serial killers the problem is based on the personality of the offender and not on the circumstances. Killing is regarded as a problem solving strategy. Once this strategy is successful the female serial killer will kill again – it becomes a thing of habituation. Female killers seem to be fascinating because they don´t answer the cliché of the protecting woman. They break a taboo. But we don´t have to forget that we are always talking about homicide.
Who are your literary influences?
I prefer authors who share their cultural background and write in the tradition of their countries. Many Irish authors – who are great narrators – influenced me. I like Gerard Donovan (Julius Winsome), Tana French (In The Woods), Frank McCourt (Angelas´s Ashes) and all the poems by Seamus Heaney. You need action in a mystery or a thriller but it is style that will fascinate your readers for a long time and make your books unforgettable. In Salzburg´s Death Dance, my first novel, you can see that beautiful old town suffer from the heat of August and in my new book, Hunter´s Blood, you will be high in the Austrian mountains in fall, stalking in the cold air and waiting for the deer (or the murderer) to appear under the dark trees.
My literary influences are well-crafted suspense novels written by Ruth Rendell/Barabara Vine, Mary Higgins Clark and of course Stephen King. Like these authors (whom I admire) I don´t ask at the beginning of a new book: Who did it? Can my detective bring the killer to justice? But: Will my hero survive? Will he prevail? I like to start my stories in a small, safe world, then plunge my reader in a nightmare, drive him from one extreme to the other and in the end reward him with emotional satisfaction. And it seems that readers like to follow me.
Last winter – a long Austrian winter full of snow and ice – I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, a novel in the good old gothic tradition. And although it was written at the beginning of the last century it intrigued me so much that I was not able to put it down. Skill and style don´t depend on literary genres. They persist for generations and well written literature should be the main influence for all of us who write.
Do you think that crime stems from dissociation?
In my opinion, as the famous sociologist Bourdieu said, crime and deviance stem from social dissociation. I totally agree with this view as likewise there is a difference in the social classes. Bourdieu´s view is that the lower said classes lack cultural capital, such as right values and norms, lack later on the educational capital, such as degrees and higher education, what they finally can turn into economical capital such as wealth and health. Therefore, these social classes have the problem that they get negative labels which lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Later onwards – as a result of dissociation – they turn to crime because of status frustration, lack of material goods and therefore finally poverty.
What do you make of the rise of the E Book?
When EBooks appeared first in Europe – often publishing without the agreement of the owners of the intellectual rights – there only existed a niche market. In 2007 trade publishers at the Frankfurt book fair announced that 30 % of non-fiction books were available on EBooks. Until today EBook issues were mainly economics, law, medicine, politics or psychology. I was informed that my novel Salzburg´s Death Dance is available on Kindle by Amazon but normally it´s not easy for fiction to find its way to the reader. The first reason is that a great deal of literature is still in English and the second is that EBooks suffer from a defect – conditional of manufacturing. They lack such important things as the smell of paper, the look of different printed characters and the feeling of a new bought copy in your hands. Maybe the EBook is an additional offer to readers but in my opinion it will never replace a real book. Just imagine: one future day your grandson will climb up to the attic. He will find an EBook and an old copy of Apostle Rising. The EBook will be broken-down. But from the printed copy your grandson will only have to blow away the dust. And start reading …
Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
As many writers nowadays and in the past I´m a hunter. I love the daybreak in the Austrian mountains sitting in the frost and watching out for a special chamois or the right stag to come in the range of my gun. And yes, during these hours when time seems to stand still I can feel the piece of ice in my heart. Although I love animals I´m no vegetarian. A writer has to watch out for people and even when he never uses them as characters in his novels, he tries to catch their secrets and put them on paper like a scientist who spears butterflies to pin them in a frame. I think, first of all a writer should have a caring heart. Without that he´ll never be able to write a single sentence that will touch his readers. But a little piece of ice in it will help him to keep the distance he needs for his work.
How does your background in law influence your view of crime fiction?
I´m both a practising lawyer and a law historian. A lawyer learns to think analytically and logically during his studies. And he always wants to see justice to be done. That´s what he is fighting for every day and that´s what reading and writing crime fiction is for, too. But my personal view of mysteries has been mostly influenced by the years when I worked as a law historian at Salzburg University. Law history in Europe – starting with Roman Civil Right – is a history of slavery and reign of terror, of torture and ordeals. One of the darkest chapters in Middle Age Europe is the persecution of men, women and even children accused to practice witchcraft. Millions of people were burnt alive at the stake. All this was legal and there is a long tradition in legalizing governmental injustice through the centuries all over the world.
Working on these items I became sensitive in concern of crime fiction where one author outbids the other with senseless cruelties in his writing. It seems to be a never-ending competition to attract the attention of the reader just causing an emotional blunting. Look at the news channel on TV and you know what crime means.
As a lawyer I appreciate well plotted stories and fascinating characters showing the handcraft of an author. Cruelty in many different ways is part of a lawyer´s profession. He doesn´t have to spend his leisure time with it. On the other side History of Law provided me with an idea for my next book (to be released in April 2012). It is a cold case about three young poachers – psychological, intriguing and weird. I try to fascinate my readers with dark poetry and a glance on the dark side of human minds. So far it seems they like to follow me.
Is there a particular event that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
My life has been changed through the years – by the countries I saw, by the people I met and the books I read. And I hope I will grow and change and stay young at heart until my dying day.
My writing has been influenced by my personal background. I spent my childhood in Northern Germany. I listened to the old stories settled in the misty moors full of elfins, dwarfs and the ghosts of the unfortunate wanderers that have vanished in the morass in the night. I think therefore all my books have a little touch of a ghost story – similar to the books of many Irish and Scandinavian authors who write in the tradition of their countries and to whom I feel related.
Are you currently working on a new novel?
Yes I am. My first novel Salzburg Death Dance was a success and I got a call from a well known German director who is interested in making a film. So the last two weeks we were busy to arrange meetings with German and Austrian film companies. The setting of every book always has to be an attractive landscape – not only for the reader but also to give a film a chance. I sold the sequel titled Hunter´s Blood to my publisher – who asked me for a series – in July and it is to be released in April 2012. Now there are two books in the works. The first book will be part of the series and it´s about a scientist in the 19th century who collects shrunken heads which puts a curse on his descendants today and so on …. The next book is my preferred. It is a bigger project titled The Weapons Of Freedom and it is about arms trade. It will be a political thriller and a lot of work. Writing is becoming a profession to me! And I´m still looking for an English or American publishing house to release an English-language edition for my novel Salzburg Death Dance. A German literature agent contacted me who sells intellectual property rights all over the world and I hope we can arrange something. So – wish me luck!
How would you like to be remembered as a writer?
I´m just at the beginning of my career as a writer. Therefore the question how I would like to be remembered as a writer has to be connected to the question about the development of my work. My first novel is a suspense story and my second one and third one will be as well. But I hold a deep interest in sociology and politics and so my fourth novel – already in progress – will be in the range of politics. It is about arms deals – a contemporary and very sensitive issue. In my future books I´ll try to picture the current situation of our world in a suspense-packed way. I don´t believe that a writer can change the world but in a situation where men´s coexistence in several countries becomes impossible the force of all statutes and even the positive law disappears. I want to make my readers aware of that. And that is how I would like to be remembered as a writer. I hope that on the one hand my books will be always exciting and on the other hand show my readers in the future that there were writers today who thought about the actual state of society. It seems to me to be the task of those of us who are lucky enough to reach other people with their words.
Thank you Ines for an informed and penetrating interview which I hope will bring new readers to your work.
Bio: My author´s name is Ines Eberl and I was born in Berlin, Germany. I´m a law historian and practising lawyer. I taught History Law at the University of Salzburg, Austria, and now I´m practising law in Salzburg with my Austrian-born husband. We have two children.
Salzburg Death Dance, released in April, 2011 is my first novel and I just sold my second one (Hunter´s Blood – to be released in April, 2012). My third mystery novel and a thriller are already in work.