Emma Viskic: My Life of Crime with Caleb Zelic | Pushkin Press

Emma Viskic: My Life of Crime with Caleb Zelic

Posted 17th June 2022

Author of the Caleb Zelic series, Emma Viskic, has been writing the addictive crime thriller series since 2017 and won multiple awards. Here she explores the influences that played a role in the evolution of Caleb Zelic throughout the series.

The fourth instalment Those Who Perish by Emma Viskic is out now!

I grew up on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. It was the perfect place for a free-range kid, with lots of bushland, swamps and building sites to explore, but it had a darker side too – one of the highest crime and unemployment rates in the country. Also a fair few murders, including two separate serial killings, one of which has never been solved. So I guess I was destined to write Australian noir.

In many ways I was destined to write the hero of my series, too. Caleb Zelic strode onto the pages of my debut novel, Resurrection Bay, as though he’d been waiting impatiently for me to notice him.  A loner PI with a dry sense of humour, he was watchful and unwaveringly stubborn. And profoundly deaf.

Caleb’s deafness helps add a lot of tension to the novels. There’s a constant danger someone could sneak up behind him, or he could miss an important clue because he’s lipreading. Not to mention his urge to thump some of the patronising ‘hearies’ he encounters along the way. 

But the origins of his character go deeper than that. 

Like Caleb, I’ve often had my feet in two different worlds: a working class kid who became a classical musician; an author whose grandparents were illiterate. But where my experiences most line-up with Caleb’s is that I’ve got ADHD. Although that term often conjures up ‘annoying kid who can’t concentrate’, it’s a complex neurological condition that can sometimes make day-to-day life pretty challenging. And can sometimes be a gift.  Just as Caleb’s deafness makes him an astute investigator, ADHD makes me an observant writer – when you don’t instinctively understand the rules of the world, you tend to become a keen people-watcher.

It’s nearly ten years since Caleb first strode out of my subconscious and into his own story, and I’ve just finished the fourth book in the series, Those Who Perish. I’ve been lucky enough to have the support of readers and publishers to write exactly the kind of books I love  –  novels with meaty stories that can be read as standalones, or as a series where you can go on an emotional journey with the characters. 

I wanted to avoid the cliche of an investigator who lurches from case to case, book to book incapable of change, so Caleb’s grown a lot along the way.

In Resurrection Bay he’s at odds with himself and estranged from family and friends. Not part of the hearing world, or the Deaf, but in a no-man’s land in between. By the beginning of Those Who Perish, he’s more sure of his place in the world. At least, he is until he and I blow it apart again.

After all, we were destined to do it.