This reading group guide for Sail of Stone includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Åke Edwardson. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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In Gothenburg, Sweden, Chief Inspector Erik Winter agrees to help an old girlfriend find her father, who has disappeared to Scotland under mysterious circumstances while searching for his own long-lost father, who was presumed to have died in World War II. With the help of an old friend from Scotland Yard, Winter finds himself on a journey through the Scottish coastline and gradually begins to unravel a web of secrets that stretches back across three generations.
Simultaneously, his colleague Detective Aneta Djanali senses there may be more to a domestic disturbance report than meets the eye and pursues her instinct. Like Winter, she is soon in over her head, and her missing persons case gets her caught up in a string of burglaries and a smuggling ring in a seedy part of town.
As they investigate their respective cases, both discover the difficulties involved in uncovering family secrets and the many intricacies of relationships, both their own and those of their clients.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the novel’s title, Sail of Stone
. Why might Edwardson have chosen this title? What imagery does it conjure up for you?
2. The novel abounds with detailed descriptions of both the sea and the sky. Is there a particular passage that stood out to you for its vivid depiction of either?
3. Both Erik and Aneta rely more on their instinct than concrete evidence as they doggedly pursue their respective cases. Is this what makes them good detectives? Why does Erik take the Osvald case—is he simply helping an old friend, or is there more to his decision? What motivates Aneta to delve deeper into the mystery surrounding Annette?
4. Both Erik and Aneta are reluctant to fully relinquish their independence, even though they are both in committed relationships. Why do you think this is?
5. Solitude, and its varying impact on individuals, plays a large role in the novel. Erik and Aneta both seek out solitude, holding onto their personal space even when it interferes with their relationships. Conversely, fishermen construct their lives around long periods of isolation as a necessity, and sometimes, such a lonely life is said to drive them crazy. The Osvalds state that the silence is the most difficult part of being on a fishing voyage. What do you feel the novel says about seclusion?
6. The book is as much about relationship dynamics as it is about solving crime. How do the detectives’ interactions with one another and their personal relationships impact the plot? Do you see parallels between their lives and those of the individuals they are investigating?
7. Erik Osvald says that storms are good for the sea, because they stir up the bottom, and Winter feels the metaphor applies to his work (p. 148-149). Discuss the “storms” in the novel that stir up dormant problems. Are they beneficial? To whom?
8. Reread the passage on page 302: “Now here they stood, with a sudden sun over all the mountains that stuck up above the surface of the water. But that was only a small part of it, a tenth of a percent. Everything was below the surface. The iceberg effect. These weren’t icebergs, but the effect was the same. That’s how it was with good books…The simple words were only the topmost layer. Everything was underneath. Books, but also the work in their world. Their world was words, words, words…” How does this iceberg metaphor apply to books, particularly Sail of Stone
in particular? How does it apply to the detective work described in the novel? Do you find it an apt metaphor?
9. Discuss the pacing of the novel and the way in which events unfold. How do the concurrent yet independent plotlines relate to one another? Why do you think Edwardson chose to intertwine these two stories?
10. At what point did you identify the character whose reveries were interspersed? What did these flashbacks contribute to the story?
11. After reading the novel, go back and skim the first chapter. How does what you know now change that passage?
12. Discuss the culmination of the novel. Did it match your predictions? Edwardson leaves many questions unanswered—did you anticipate, or want, a more conclusive ending?
13. Ultimately, did either Erik or Aneta “solve” their respective crimes? What did their investigations contribute? Did they manage to clarify and clear up matters, or do you think they may have complicated them further in some instances?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Familiarize yourself with the complicated areas around Gothenburg, Sweden. Go to http://maps.google.com/maps?q=gothenburg+sweden
and search for places such as Kortedala, the neighborhood of Annette’s apartment; Krokslätt, the site of the Lindsten family home; and Donsö, the island where the Osvald families live.
2. Similarly, look at a map of the Scottish coastline between Inverness and Aberdeen to help visualize the fishing towns Winter and Macdonald visit on their search for Osvald (Forres, Dallas, Buckie, Pennan, Fraserburgh, and Peterhead). Also check out www.VisitScotland.com
for more information on the country. Be sure to look at the areas mentioned in the novel—Inverness and Moray in the Highlands Region, and the North East Coast in the Aberdeen City and Shire Region.
3. Try some traditional Scottish food, such as Cullen Skink (http://www.scottishrecipes.co.uk/cullenskink.htm
) or haggis (http://www.worldburnsclub.com/begin/address_to_a_haggis.htm
), or dine on the more common fish and chips.
4. Get a feel for an actual Scottish fishing town by watching the movie Local Hero
, starring Burt Lancaster, which was partially filmed in Pennan, Scotland. The plot of the 1983 comedy/drama revolves around an American oil company representative who is sent to a Scottish village to purchase the town for his company.
5. Music plays a large role in the lives of the novel’s characters—rarely do they take a drive or relax in their apartment without putting on a CD. Listen to some of the characters’ favorite jazz, rock, and/or ethnic African music during your meeting. Try jazz legends like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Wynton Marsalis; classic rock bands such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Steppenwolf; and traditional African artists like Ali Farka Touré and Gabin Dabiré.
A Conversation with Åke Edwardson
You have been a university lecturer, journalist, and press officer for the United Nations. What led you to becoming an author of detective fiction?
It was the only kick left in my life, so I decided to give it a go around 1993. Now it’s been twenty-one books, roughly half of them crime novels, the rest “literary” fiction, some plays, too.Who inspired the character of Erik Winter?
I was tired of the tired detective in mid-90’s novels! I wanted somebody younger, more determined, possessed, on his way full throttle into the new millennium, without mayonnaise stains on a shabby jacket.
The name? It’s to show the complicated personality of Erik Winter: It’s from the albino American blues guitarist Johnny Winter and the black Dutch soccer player Aron Winter.
Sail of Stone, the sixth novel in the Erik Winter series, is now being published in English ten years after its Swedish publication. Do you think the story will be different for an American audience?
An American audience is just as smart as readers in the rest of the world, probably smarter, so there will be no problem. Note that I have only intelligent readers, there are other books for the rest. The themes in Sail of Stone
, dealing with the shadows of the past, the Good War, and the sea; those themes are larger than life and a mere ten years, or a hundred, makes no difference.
Do you have any advice for English readers just beginning the series with this sixth book? Is there any essential backstory a first-time reader should know?
Erik Winter started out in the first novel as one of those arrogant dudes born in the early sixties (I was born in the humble early fifties) and as such he was (in the first couple of novels) very good at his work but pretty lousy at everything else, including relationships. I wanted him to grow, to learn something from his life: to learn the art of living, which is the hardest thing. When you get the hang of it you’re pushing eighty.
So this is Bildung-romanen
within the crime story; it’s the only way to make it interesting I think. And when it comes to Erik, in the earlier novels he has married his girl, he has become a father, and he has matured a bit. He’s on his way. He could almost be my friend in this one.Why did you decide to set your novels in Gothenburg? This novel includes vivid descriptions of many towns along the Scottish coast as well; what drew you to set a large portion of the novel in Scotland? Did you visit the small villages Winter and Macdonald travel through?
Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden, with over 1 million inhabitants. It’s by far the most dynamic city in the north of Europe; Stockholm, for instance, is just a prettily made-up corpse, dead and shining.
When I started out writing about Gothenburg in the early 90s, there was not much literature on the city, and absolutely no crime fiction. It was like no one had taken the city seriously, and I decided to do that, and I’m glad I did: the change here has been tremendous over the years, so the series on Erik Winter is really a saga of a big city changing from Workingman-land to Bladerunned-land. Even the crime is world-class now in Gothenburg; in 1995 I had to make that up.
Scotland and Gothenburg have old ties, streets of Gothenburg are named after Scots, and over the centuries there’s been a lot of business between Gothenburg and Scottish ports, like Aberdeen which lies straight over the North Sea. Above all there’s been that old fishermen’s connection, which the novel takes its drama from.
I visited every one of them! On several visits. So don’t tell me being a novelist isn’t hard labor.
The novel places a significant focus on the relationship dynamics of its characters, and their personal lives play a role in the evolution of the plot as well. How do you strike a balance between developing the personal side of your characters, while still telling a compelling crime story?
Yes. It’s the trick really. You can’t have the one without the other, but you really can’t tell a good story with hollow and shallow characters, everything depends on “the people” you put in the story. It’s important for me to have my readers see that my characters have a huge back story, even if I don’t tell a word about it. I think you understand what I mean. This is the essence of writing, to make that Gestaltung
of characters on the page. They are not alive, but if you do it right they could be any and all of readers. This is the writer’s duty. If it isn’t done right the writer should work in other honorable professions.
You are a three-time winner of the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Award for best crime novel. Congratulations! What do you believe makes a successful crime novel?
We all write the same story. It’s like the blues: three chords. It could be wonderful and it could be awful, it depends on how it’s done, by whom. It’s the simplicity that does it, simplicity expose anyone in any field who isn’t up to it.
The three chords in a crime novel are:
2) Search for answers
That’s all there is. Play on. The detective work and department interactions are described in detail and seem very authentic. How did you become knowledgeable about such procedures? What type of research do you do to ensure accuracy?
Being a former journalist I believe in research. Everything that happens in these novels could have happened
in the real world, even if it sometimes seems strange. If you write a police procedural, the police procedural has to be absolutely right, like in any novel, about anything.
When it comes to Winter novels I’m fortunate to have my Chief Inspector friend Torbjörn, the head of Forensics Department of the Gothenburg Police, to read the whole manuscript in proof. That eliminates the last of my errors.
You include a variety of characters, yet all are well developed and play a specific role in the story. How do you create and maintain so many distinct personalities?
There is a clinical term for that, all those voices in your head... But seriously, this is what writing is about: To give voice and motion to the different personalities you carry, your masculine side, your feminine side, your violent side, your humble, your outspoken... How could it be in any other way, and writers are those who put it on paper.
Several of your books have been made into TV movies in Sweden. Were you involved with their production?
My only involvement in the productions was to ban them afterwards. It’s a writer’s absolute duty to put down anything done from his work regardless of quality. My motto: One single word says more than a thousand pictures.Did you know how the novel would end before you began writing it? Did you have the Erik Winter series, and the evolution of his character, in mind from the beginning, or did everything develop continuously?
For me it’s the key question. I don’t know that much when I start writing a novel, more than the theme and idea of this specific book, and a plot bowe on a single piece of paper, but I know one thing: the ending scene. I have to wait out that scene in my head before I can start writing, have to know where it will take place, who’s going to be there (apart from Winter), what the motion and emotion is going to be. Sometimes it takes an extra month or two to get started, waiting. I believe that if I, as a writer, know where I’m going in the book, the reader will know too, and follow.You concluded the Erik Winter series with the tenth book, which was published in Sweden in 2010. What made you decide Winter’s story was completed?
I certainly didn’t have a whole series of ten big books in mind when I started on the first Winter novel. My plan was to try and finish that one, and have it published! But after that was done I wanted to write another one, I was curious of this lead character I had created, and somewhere in the middle I decided to try and write the Decalogue, that classical number.
The tenth book, The Last Winter
, was actually published in Swedish in 2008. I was proud of this last one, and I thought that if I just went on writing more Winter novels, the quality would drop. So I said this is it. Nevermore a Winter novel.
But I was lying. I’m still curious about this guy, after all this time. We had twelve years together, and you just don’t end such a relationship cold turkey. So this year I’ve decided to write a new big Winter novel, “Winter’s Return,” hopefully coming out in 2014.
In 2010, I published a “literary” novel (though I think my crime novels are just as “literary”), and in August 2011 came a thriller, Meet Me in Estepona.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I’m working on a young adult novel, Indian Winter
, the third in a trilogy following Samurai Summer
and Dragon Month
, and I’m also writing stories for a big collection out 2013, Going Home
. So you can’t say I’m only in it for the money.