In the opening scene of “Estrada dos Refúgios”, writer Bettina Winkler establishes a strong, intense and mysterious tone. Upon noticing the absence of her middle sister, Bárbara, her instincts alert her to the need for help. The search alongside his younger sister, Ira, reveals a disturbing situation of sexual abuse that turns into physical attacks, culminating in the death of the attacker, Maurício.
From that point on, all the events that unfold call into question the identity of the adoptive father of the three protagonists, Bernard Gastrell, a former British serial killer known in the quiet country town as “The Punisher”. As new murders emerge in the plot, the reader realizes that even blood ties are not enough to protect a family like this. In this national thriller, published by Qualis Editora, the author highlights the strong influence of northeastern culture, especially Bahia, her home state and current residence.
By introducing elements such as the stone-floored square, the dirt paths and even the cane-green jackets worn by motorcycle taxi drivers, Bettina Winkler challenges the supremacy of foreign settings and characteristics present in suspense works, offering a plot that is closer and more engaging for the Brazilian reader.
“Road of Refuges” begins with an intense scene. Can you tell us more about what inspired this impactful opening of the book?
The prologue scene was actually the last part of the book I wrote because it was the idea of my wonderful agent, Mariana dal Chico. She presented me with the idea so that the book would start with more action, as well as giving a stronger tone to the story, and I think it fit perfectly. The scene is an event that, unfortunately, is very common. Many women have gone through something similar.
The plot involves sensitive themes, such as sexual abuse and violence. What was your motivation for addressing these themes in the story?
As I said, it is very common in our society for women to go through this type of thing, so the idea was to bring it closer to the Brazilian reality, bring identification and, in a way, raise awareness and create awareness about abuse and violence against women. the women.
The book highlights the influence of northeastern culture, especially Bahia, where you were born. How does local culture play a role in the narrative?
The city of Estrada dos Refúgios is practically a character in this story, it has its own personality and much of it comes from the Bahian and Northeastern culture that I know and live. For me, it was very important to create characters who loved eating beans and flour, said “vei” and “barrel” because these are things that only our national literature can offer and that Bahians can identify with, just as the rest of Brazil can relate to. to meet.
Bernard Gastrell is a complex character. He is a British former serial killer who became “The Punisher”. How did you develop this character and what motivated you to create someone with this background?
I don’t really know how to describe my relationship with creating characters because they only appear, almost ready, in my head. They are usually the kickoff that inspires me to create the entire narrative. The first scene that came to mind was the three girls being yelled at by him for bringing a body home without taking the necessary care to avoid linking the crime to them, so it was all very organic. I love thriller films, series and books, so the image of Gastrell came from several references that gathered in my head and from then on I imagined something like “imagine this guy here in Bahia”. Furthermore, I wanted to provoke readers to become attached to a character who claims to be doing the right and fair thing even if to do so he has to do merciless acts, is ambiguous, is morally dubious, has a fine line that divides where Gastrell is right and that’s what makes it special.
The book’s narrative takes a twist with other murders. Without giving away too many spoilers, how do these twists affect the plot and characters?
These twists mainly affect Bárbara, the protagonist,’s view of the other characters. She keeps a secret that no one knows, so what stops others from having secrets too? Her unshakable trust in her sisters and father begins to waver and she also becomes even more suspicious of other people as well.
You mentioned the use of local elements, such as the stone-floored square and the cane-green jackets. How do these details help create a sense of authenticity in the story?
If I talk about a suspense story set in the interior of Bahia, you will probably have few titles to offer me (I accept nominations!), so nothing more fair than showing with elements what a suspense story set in a city would actually be like. as the Road of Refuges. In everyday life this is very common, the little squares with stone floors are a classic, even in Salvador, which is the capital, you think, as are the motorcycle taxi drivers’ jackets and other things.
The story involves the relationship between sisters Bárbara and Ira. How does this relationship develop throughout the book?
There are three sisters, Bárbara, Karma and Ira, and beyond the murders, they have a very typical relationship between sisters close in age, such as intrigue, jealousy, but also protection and unconditional love. Barbara would do anything to protect the other two, even if they did something very absurd. After all, Barbara herself already did something dark and needed to be protected by Gastrell. Throughout the book, their fraternity, which is already a lot, only increases because the bloody events only make the family closer together, especially because they can only count on each other at the end of the day.
The plot is set in a country town. How does this setting influence the events of the story?
As I said, the city is almost a character in the story, so there are things that are classics of a small town, such as the fact that the entire city finds out about things very quickly, information spreads by word of mouth; It also has important locations such as the river near the girls’ house, the setting for many important scenes. Additionally, the characters live close to each other and key locations. There are many things that are only possible because they are on Estrada dos Refúgios, which even today still has, in a way, remote access, allowing, for example, a former serial killer who was world famous to go unrecognized.
As a thriller writer, what is your process for keeping readers intrigued and eager to turn the pages?
I believe that captivating characters are the key to keeping readers hooked, because they want – or not – their favorites to be innocent, or to stay alive, they want to know what will happen to them. Furthermore, the suspenseful atmosphere helps maintain curiosity, it’s all for the “vibe”.
“Estrada dos Refúgios” is a national work in a genre often dominated by foreign authors. How do you see the space for Brazilian authors in the thriller scene?
We, national authors, have an incredible opportunity to create original narratives exploring our culture and our country. I believe that the market is increasingly open to national literature (thankfully!), and can expand even further as we are creating and disseminating stories that are different from what we are used to consuming. From a market point of view, it is a gap to fill with original stories. There is a lot of quality national suspense literature out there and this is growing more and more.
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