1. Inspector Pekkala is quite a fascinating character. Was it easy to create him? What kind of research you did? How many real-life Finns do you know?
Inspector Pekkala is based on two people.
The first is a man named AT Vassileyev, who was the last serving director of the Tsar’s Okhrana prior to the Revolution. He escaped from Russia and made his way to Paris, where he lived in poverty until his death in the mid 1930’s. During this time, he wrote a book about his experiences, which was titled, simply, The Okhrana. The book was translated into English in 1932, I think, and very few copies were printed. I stumbled upon the book in an antique shop in Princeton, New Jersey, which is where I live and work. The book was in very bad condition. The pages were crumbling in my hands as I turned them. but it was as if Vassileyev himself was speaking the words inside my head. I was shocked at how many things he predicted for the future of Russia. Some of them appeared so outrageous that the translator felt obliged to write, in her foreword to the book, that these were obviously the ramblings of an unstable mind. But every one of them had come true by the time I read the book.
The second person is my grandfather, who served as a detective with the London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) from the 1930’s until the late 1950’s. He ran away from his home in Wales at the age of 16 and joined the police in London. One day, when he was chasing down a criminal, the suspect’s dog attacked him. He was taken to the hospital and ended up marrying the nurse who treated him that day. From my father, I heard many stories of my grandfather’s adventures in Scotland Yard. I was always very nervous around my grandfather. He was a tall man – 6’6” – and I do not remember him smiling very much. I still have the truncheon he carried during his early days in the police and also the whistle, with its distinctive sound, carried by all policemen in those days.
I suppose I should include a third person, and that is myself. As a writer, you cannot escape writing about yourself, no matter how many masks you wear. The way Pekkala speaks, the way he acts, the things he thinks about – that is all me – for better or worse.
2. The biggest question for Finnish readers is: Why does Pekkala stay in Russia?
(There were a lot of Finns in Czar Nicholas’s service, but the majority of them returned to homeland after our declaration of Independence, December 6th 1917. Just the hard-lined Finnish communists / bolseviks stayed – and most of them were excecuted in Stalin´s purges at late Thirties.)
Initially, Pekkala does try to leave Russia. He sends his fiancé to Paris, with a promise to meet her there as soon as he can. Later, as he tries to escape through Finland, he is arrested by Red Militia at the border. From there, he is transported back to Russia and eventually sent to the notorious gulag known as Borodok. There, against all odds, he manages to survive until Stalin himself recalls him to duty. The question which Pekkala (and I as well) must grapple with is – why would he work for a man like Stalin? Why would he serve someone who condemned him to a slow death in the gulag? Equally, one could ask – why would Stalin choose to work with a man who was once the favorite of the Tsar? The answer is that, in spite of their differences, these two men have one thing in common, which is to ensure the survival of their country. The result is an uneasy truce between Stalin and Pekkala. I love writing about this. The complex equation of their loyalty to each other, and to Russia, comes into a different perspective with every book. When I am writing, and trying to understand this character I have created, I ask myself – What does a good man do when his country is governed by a tyrant? Does he simply run away, or does he find some way to continue doing what he believes is right? This is why Pekkala does not leave.
3. What kind of future will Pekkala have?
I am just finishing up the fifth book in the series, which takes place in the year 1944. I will be handing it to my editor in London and then will immediately begin work on the sixth book. These days, I think, I send more time with Inspector Pekkala than I do with anyone else, living or not. Stalin is constantly losing his temper with Pekkala and threatening him with all kinds of punishments. But he needs Pekkala. No one else can do what he does. In spite of his frustration with the Inspector, Stalin is in awe of Pekkala, just as theTsar once was, and that is one of the main reasons why Pekkala stays alive. For anyone who is interested, details of the books can be found on the website – Inspectorpekkala.com
As for Pekkala’s future, I think he will have a long and colorful career.
4. What kind of CV do you have? And as a successful writer – how did you end up writing this kind of quality-crime-fiction?
As some people have discovered by now, my real name is not Sam Eastland. It’s Paul Watkins, and I have been writing under my real name for many years now. I attended the Dragon School and Eton, both in England, and then went to America, to study at Yale University. I live in the United States now, and divide my time between Princeton, which is just outside New York City, and my cabin in the forest of northern Maine. I published my first book when I was 22 and have been writing ever since. For anyone who is interested, there is a website devoted to the books I have written under my own name – paulwatkins.com
I never intended to write under a pseudonym! The way it came about was that I had written a book in which the main character just happened to be a detective – Inspector Pekkala. My British editor convinced me to turn it into a series and, so that it did not disrupt my career as a ‘literary’ author, encouraged me to write the series under a different name. I almost didn’t do it. I didn’t know whether I would enjoy writing about the same characters and the same time in history in multiple books. But I’m very glad I did. I have grown to know the characters so well, the good and the bad, that they seem completely alive to me. It has also been very gratifying to see how well the books have done. The series has been translated into more than 20 languages now, but I was particularly pleased when I learned that the stories would be translated into Finnish! I have traveled quite a bit in Finland, from the southern island of Korpo, north to Rovaniemi and to Lappeenranta in the east. I am a huge fan of your beautiful country, your history and your people.