From Holmes to Sherlock: An Interview with Mattias Boström

Mattias Boström Won Half the Prizes on his US-Tour

An interview with Sölve Dahlgren. Published by Boktugg, 29 April 2018

Translated from the Swedish by Dean Hunt, 30 April 2018

Photo: Anna-Lena Ahlström

This past weekend author Mattias Boström traveled to the United States, having been nominated for two prestigious prizes for his non-fiction book Från Holmes till Sherlock [From Holmes to Sherlock, published by the Mysterious Press in the US]. He won one of them —the Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction [at Malice Domestic, an annual fan convention in the metropolitan DC area that celebrates the traditional mystery.]

It is not easy to distinguish between all the various honors and prizes around the world.  We reported earlier that Mattias Boström had been nominated for the Edgar Prize (named after Edgar Allan Poe [by the Mystery Writers of America]). The Edgars have been handed out since 1946.  In 1971, Sjöwall & Wahlöö received the Edgar for Best Crime Novel for Den skrattande polisen (The Laughing Policeman) —the only Scandinavian book that has ever won an Edgar.

In addition to the Edgar nomination, Mattias was also nominated for another prestigious prize— the Agatha Award (named after Agatha Christie).  Furthermore, both prizes were given out in the USA within two-days, in New York and Washington DC respectively.  It was Friday night, Swedish time, when Mattias participated in the Edgar Award ceremony in New York.

“It was a magnificent evening with over 600 guests at the dinner and many of the USA’s foremost crime writers were present, all of them dressed to the nines. A festive atmosphere reigned.  When the prize ceremony had begun, my heart started to pound even more, but when we came to my category Best Critical/Biographical and it was announced which book had won — and it was not mine —my heart calmed down. Remarkably enough, I did not feel disappointed, something that I usually am in such situations. Being nominated for an Edgar is a win in itself, so I am still tremendously pleased.”

The winner was Lawrence P. Jackson’s Chester B. Himes:  A Biography.

Did the right book win in your category and have you read it?

“It was absolutely the right book that won, and it was also the very book I’d guessed would win. I have the book at home but have not been able to read it yet.  What I have understood is that it is indeed an important biography about an equally great and important author.  Moreover, it is a more academic and analytical book, while the purpose of my book is to entertain. I will never be able to write in any other manner. So whether I take home any nominations or prizes in the future depends in part on what people want out of a non-fiction book.

Has the nomination opened any new doors for you as a writer?

The doors have certainly opened, but I don’t believe I will be seeing too much from it until I write a new book that’s suited to an international market.  Still, the nomination helps to get people to take notice of the book and read it, in particular when the comes out in an American paperback edition in August.

How big is Sherlock Holmes today and what is it about the books that have made them survive when many other books written at that time are out of fashion?

Today, there’s a greater interest in Sherlock Holmes than there has been since the 1970s. At that time, a blockbuster Holmes-pastiche and a theatrical play in London and in New York were the starting point; today it is mainly the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch that has gotten huge numbers of people interested in the detective. But other movies, TV series and books have also contributed to the boom that has been taking place the last eight years, Mattias Boström says.

“That Sherlock Holmes has held up so well 130 years after he was created is due to his being so versatile and malleable —he can be recast in numerous and different ways to suit modern consumers of entertainment.  A development that has really been going on ever since the 1890s, while at the same time he lived on in his original form. Apart from Sjöwall & Wahlöö’s win there are only five Scandinavians who have succeeded in being nominated for an Edgar:  Peter Høeg, Anne Holt, Jo Nesbø, Karin Alvtogen and non-fiction author John-Henri Holmberg. But how big are the Edgar Awards?  It’s not something we talk about in Sweden at all. Perhaps because Swedish authors rarely are nominated.

“For an American author it is the finest prize there is.  It is enough to be nominated in order to have it as a permanent title for life:  ‘the Edgar-nominated author’ or ‘the Edgar-winning author.’  It is blurbed on the front cover of all the books and used in all the PR and marketing materials. Everyone I’ve spoken with here in the US says it has enormous significance, especially as a door-opener,” Mattias Boström says.

Even though he did not win an Edgar, just the nomination itself has had significance and a concrete effect.

“It has been the ultimate confirmation that the book I have written truly has lasting value.  Scads of congratulations have streamed in since it was nominated in January and many have taken notice of the book; in Sweden, too. Quite concretely, the nomination has meant also that Piratförlaget will publish the new version of the book in the fall, the edition that has come in the USA and has 25 new chapters!”

And Matthias Boström’s trip to the US wasn’t over, either; he traveled on to Washington, D.C. to be present at another prize ceremony. He was, it turns out, also nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction.  This is the first time since the prize was established in 1989 that a Scandinavian author has ever been nominated in any of the categories. Agatha Awards are given out to honor the traditional detective story in Agatha Christie’s spirit.

And this time it was Mattias Boström who took home the prize.

“It is a tremendous honor, especially when you consider how many books of non-fiction about crime literature and true crime come out in the US.  The Agatha Award is one of the finest detective-story prizes one can win and it felt fantastic just to be nominated. Moreover, winning an Agatha as a Swede is something I couldn’t have dreamt of doing,” Mattias Boström said in a press release after receiving the prize Saturday night Swedish time.

Piratförlaget published Från Holmes till Sherlock in 2013.  Earlier, it had been awarded Svenska Deckarakademins pris (The Prize of the Swedish Detective-Story Academy) for the year’s best book of non-fiction and was nominated for Stora fackbokpriset (The Great Non-Fiction Prize) and has come out in Danish, Norwegian and German.

In 2017 the book was published in a revised and expanded version in the USA and Great Britain with the title From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon. Consequently, in September Piratförlaget will bring out this revised and expanded edition again.

Mattias Boström is one of Scandinavia’s leading Sherlock Holmes experts and in 2007 was inducted into the foremost Holmes society, The Baker Street Irregulars, where he has also been awarded prizes for his writings about the detective.

So what happens now, will you become a full-time writer and write new Sherlock Holmes novels in a bungalow in Thailand?

I’ve never been attracted to Thailand – I’m more a Scotland man – and we’ll just have to see how the combination job and writing plays out over time.  Really, though, I don’t think that there will be a big change. I’ve toyed with the thought a little about writing novels instead and doing it on a regular basis, but after now having spent the last few years writing a turn-of-the-century detective story (it is almost finished), I have come to realize it’s easier to write entertaining non-fiction literature.  We’ll see. It really depends a great deal on what ideas I get. The books of non-fiction I am planning cut very close to the novel form in their telling, Mattias Boström says.


About gabrielswharf

gabriel’s wharf is a blog on the random thoughts and writings of author Gabriel Valjan. His stories continue to appear online and in print journals. Winter Goose Publishing publishes his Roma Series.
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