Publication Date: Available Now from Bonnier/Manilla
The Cleaner is an excellent thriller (review to follow) so I was very happy to get to ask Elisabeth Herrmann some questions about the novel, some fascinating stuff here – thanks so much Elisabeth!
* Tell us a little about the background to “The Cleaner” – what inspired the story originally.
I worked for several years as a journalist in the newsroom. I saw a lot of crime scenes in those days. Once I attended a crimescene and there was blood everywhere- spread on the floors and walls, and the owner of the apartments were really scared to go up to their rooms. I asked the policeman in attendance who removes these traces? He told me about the specialists, the cleaners. I was curious to find out more and so started the reserach – and voila, the book came from that experience!
* The narrative that looks at the literal “Cleaning” aspect of Judith’s life is very intriguing and often shocking – it must take a particular type of personality to do that job and this is explored within Judith’s character. Was there a lot of research needed to make this authentic or did you already have background knowledge?
Yes, there really was a lot of research done. I agree, it does take a certain personality to do that job and huge part of Judith’s current situation can be explained by her background – without giving too much away I did research into young people and drug addiction and rehab facilities.
The man I based Dombrowsky on was an old school entrepreneur with a moving van who worked a lot with the Synanon organization (which was initially a drug rehabilitation program), so I used this when I was creating Judith – it allows her to find a path back into a kind of “normal life” by working for “Dombrowsky facility management”.
But why was she a victim? I had a lot of explanations, but beeing an orphan in the GDR-system was one of the best. It took a long time, talking to former kids who grew up in in orphan home, reading, reserching, travelling … Sassnitz is still spooky now! Our knowledge of this time is so full of gaps, it’s not enough. I didn‘t want to write a completley fictional story, it’s so important to me that it be “real” in some aspects.
* The political landscape in the novel is fascinating – how much of that theme within the plot is drawn from real life?
Everything. Really. Everything. The case of Judith did not happen, but it COULD have happened. I had help from a former secret service man and from a lot of other scientists. Many incredible stories began to come to light, beginning with the so called “Keitel-Villa” in Berlin Zehlendorf, where the CIA and BND worked under one roof. Which of course begs the question, why were the CIA manipulating the clear name list of the Rosenholz File, the story about transforming the stasi paper files into micro fiches etc. but I did not wanted to write a true story, it just helped to have this knowledge.
* Tell us a little about you – what type of novels do you enjoy reading, which author inspires you? What is your favourite way to spend a lazy Sunday?
I love love love Tana French. I adore the way she creates a universe of people and a case with so many surprises. Also Elizabeth George and Michael Crichton. I love reading crime novels. But I also read Zerulya Shalev, Donna Tartt and Thomas Mann. And “county and living”-journals 🙂 I have a colorful flat with a lot of things I found on the flea markets. Strolling in summer over the “brocantes” in southern france, where I spend several weeks every year for writing, makes me happy. A lazy sunday means – High Tea! Baking Scones, taking the clotted cream out of the fridge (where I store it after London visits), and making a strong black frisian tea with “Kandis” (Sugar that looks like rocks) …. mmmmhhh. I also love to listen to a Mahler or Bruckner concert, or the latest CD of Ann-Sophie Mutter, and my world is paradise.
* What is next for you in the writing stakes if you are allowed to say?
I just finished a new all-age-thriller. It is set in the bohemian mountains, the so called Emperors Forest, over the shady, pittoresque scene of Karlsbad. And I am also very lucky to be writing the screenplays for my books “Vanished Graves” (Versunkene Gräber) and “Walker in the Snow” (Der Schneegänger) at the moment.
Thank you so much!
It was an absolute pleasure, thank you for having me Liz!
About the book:
Signs of an agonisingly slow death, pools of blood, hands desperately searching for a hold. Judith Kepler has seen it all.
She is a crime scene specialist. She turns crime scenes back into habitable spaces. She is a cleaner.
It is at the home of a woman who has been brutally murdered that she is suddenly confronted with her own past. The murder victim knew Judith’s secret: as a child she was sent to an orphanage under mysterious circumstances – parentage unknown. And the East German secret police were always there, in the background.
When Judith begins to ask questions, she becomes the target of some powerful enemies. And nothing will ever be the same again.
The Cleaner is a superb and intelligent thriller, some beautiful writing and a really very engaging and intriguing story, something a little different to anything I’ve read lately in the best possible way.
There are many layers to the tale, not least of which is the political landscape – intensely fascinating it provides a backdrop to the story of one womans journey towards the truth of her history. In Judith Ms Herrmann has created a realistically flawed and conflicted character that you immediately get behind – the horrors of her job speak to who she is, which ties into her reaction to finding something telling at her latest crime scene and the whole story is beautifully constructed to make it entirely addictive.
It can be a challenging read at times, I lost the nuances of the politics occasionally but the historical flavour the author brings to the past during those strands is immersive and wonderfully described. As a thriller it is bang on the money – plenty of twists and turns to keep you enthralled throughout, edge of the seat moments to die for (and hold your breath during) and all the way through Judith is the anchor and the person you are rooting for.
Putting all that aside, there is a huge hook to be had in what Judith does for a living. I was completely into that part of the book, her attitude, especially to others coming into the job allows for some more humerous moments within the narrative – the fact that there are actually people that do this job gave me many moments of thought, I can’t imagine being that person, the one that comes in after the shouting and quietly makes it go away. A different side to things that works so well within the story as a whole. I loved it.
Overall a great thriller. Great. Highly Recommended.
You can purchase The Cleaner HERE
Happy Reading Folks!