With every book I write I aim to have my book listed among the best thrillers. Very often the critics have agreed that I have achieved this. Given how much competition exists in our field, I find it humbling that a number of critics have also categorised my books as falling into the field of best psychological thrillers.
My thrillers are inspired largely by South African realities. We cannot avoid the fact that we live in one of the most violent societies on earth. According to a police report, the suburb I currently live in is the least violent in the country, and we average about two murders a year.
Because thrillers have plots that demand careful construction, I plan my novels down to the last detail. But when I start writing, something else takes over and everything changes. And these changes keep coming long after the first draft is written. I hesitate to say that I planned anything particular in any of my books. I don’t know who plans my stories, but I am reluctant to take any credit for them.
As far as the action inside South African prisons is concerned, the inside of a prison is a very singular place, quite unlike the places in which the rest of us spend our days. The inhabitants and the pressures under which prisoners and warders live are unlike anything we have to deal with. I spend as much time as I can inside, without being convicted of anything. It is a fascinating world, but one to observe only as a visitor.
Action sequences are part of all the best suspense novels, and I really do enjoy writing them. Although I tend to write them faster and faster towards the end, so that I can get to the closing pages and see what happens.
I think the most challenging aspect of a chase sequence is that it often has to be interrupted a number of times to see what is happening somewhere else at the same time. And this has to be done while not diminishing the tension of the chase. It can be great fun.
I have written a great deal about prison psychologist Yudel Gordon, who is the central character in all my thrillers. He has been joined in recent books by Abigail Bukula of the Department of Justice. Despite himself, Yudel is in awe of attractive women. He has great confidence in his own abilities, but he is also insecure as a person. His relationship with Rosa, his wife, is contented, but he yields to her in almost everything, except those matters that are really important to him. Chief among these is his work.
As for Abigail, when he first met her, working on a basis of equality with a black woman was a new experience for him. From the start he admired her intelligence and effectiveness, but he was also confused by his admiration for her as a woman. He has never quite gotten over that.
I have been asked many times which I think are the best thrillers of all time and the question stumps me every time. So many great thrillers have been written. My own favourites are The Silence of the Lambs, and The Night of the Generals by Hans Helmut Kirst. The latter is to me an irresistible story about a series of murders during wartime occupied Europe. The only thing the investigator has to go on is that the killer is a German general.
The villains in crime fiction are always important. There are elements of many criminals in mine. In life, there are evil men, but what the mixture of genes, hormones, brain chemistry and circumstances are that turn them into killers may never be fully understood. As John Steinbeck wrote, “Monsters are born in this world to human parents.”
Wessel Ebersohn’s Yudel Gordon thrillers:
A Lonely Place To Die (1979)
Divide The Night (1981)
Closed Circle, Gollancz (1992)
The October Killings (2009)
Those Who Love Night (2010)
The Top Prisoner of C-Max (2012)
Forthcoming Yudel Gordon thriller:
The Robben Island list