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Author Interview:

Adriaan Verheul (A Clean Death, 2017)

17 December 2018


Elaine Donadio 

 Click HERE for the original in Elaine's blog

In A Clean Death we meet the main character Oliver, a conservative banker, who takes a leave from his job in  order to recover and bring back the body of his murdered father, Johan, from a God-forsaken jungle nation beset by chaos and horrors. A disturbing but seemingly accurate story of wanton violence in an unnamed part of the world where the guys with the biggest guns and the smallest consciences reign supreme. This almost reads like a memoir rather than a fictional account. Read my review of Adriaan's book HERE.

I had the pleasure of meeting Adriaan Verheul recently and was immediately pulled in by the subject matter of his book. Adriaan graciously agreed to this interview which offers further clarification  of an internationally complex plot. Adriaan brings a wealth of background knowledge as evidenced by the series of events. Adriaan Verheul, ” worked as an academic with the Dutch navy, as a United Nations human rights officer and peacekeeper, World Bank official, and independent foreign affairs consultant. His work took him to conflict and disaster zones on four continents. Somehow, he ended up in the business of demobilizing rebels and soldiers after civil war.”

What is the significance of the title A Clean Death?
Well, the idea was that the death of the Johan character would be clean, quick and painless, in contrast to some of his actions and the morality of his environment, which is dirty and corrupt. His death is pretty much the only clean thing around, as his son, who comes to collect his remains, finds out over time. Also, Johan, the expatriate, dies cleanly but some of the locals are not so fortunate, a reflection on justice in dying.

How has your professional background given you insight into the real life issues on which the story is based?
I spent about five years in countries immediately after war, or still in the throes of ethnic strife or armed rebellion. So, the inspiration for the book came out of my experience in dealing with local, often corrupt officials and rebel warlords, as well as with several international organizations, which have their own dynamics and interests. I have met with characters like Bruno, Captain Christmas or Lampuit, the morgue director, who is as pompous and corrupt as he is fat. Yet, none of the events or characters in the book are real. It’s all made up.

Why did you choose to keep the exact location of the story vague?
Not just the location, but also the ethnicity of the characters in the book. There are two reasons: one, I wanted to avoid a story about a particular country, whether it would be Congo, Uganda, or South Sudan, in order to be free of historical or geographical truths. The situations in such countries are extremely complex and I wanted to make this more about the characters than the location. Two, the horror in such countries has already given Africa a bad name, while in reality what we see are manifestations of human nature. The cruelty that happens in some places in the book, can happen anywhere, has happened everywhere, and through the vagueness, I wanted the reader to reflect on that fact.

Which character best captures your philosophy?
None. But if I would have to choose it would be Oliver, the son, who struggles a bit in understanding the environment of his father, that is so much different from the comfortable suburban environment where he had settled, and then has a hard time coming back home. I have made such transitions, back and forth, quite a few times myself.

If your book were to be made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the lead roles?
I guess Clooney as Johan, really any thirty year old actor for Oliver, maybe Barkhad Abdi (the pirate in Captain Phillips) as Captain Christmas, Scarlett Johansson as Vashti. I am sure, however, that casting directors could do a much better job. The setting would have to be overwhelming as well, big skies, big mountains, deep forest, etc.

Tell us about your writing process and how you brainstorm ideas.
I take a long time to work on the plot and the characters, about a year. Then once I start writing I make adjustments as I go along. I change the plot to fit the character development and the other way around. Very often ideas come to me unexpectedly. I wake up at night or am under the shower and the light goes on. ‘This is what so and so should say or do and for these reasons and to this particular impact on the story.’ In a few cases, I let the text flow to a point Where I do not know what to do next, so I stop writing and wait until I have processed the next steps.

Why did you choose to end the book the way you did? In re-reading your final product, what, if anything, would you change?
I wanted the book to be realistic. Very often international interventions are incapable of bringing about change. So, in the book, change happens as a result of local, domestic dynamics. Ultimately, Johan’s murderer is perhaps an obvious suspect, but the real question is whose bidding he was doing. Things are rarely what they seem. If I would change anything, I might perhaps have a little more action in the beginning.

What message do you want to send to the world?
Unintended consequences rule the world. We, as individuals as well as the human race, do not know what we are doing. You plan one thing, the other thing happens. We invent plastic, then we destroy the ocean. You enter into a relationship and things happen that you did not predict. Johan tried to disarm Christmas’ rebels but gets sucked into corruption and gets killed. Difficult moral choices, in particular, can go disastrously wrong. At the same time, we can’t help ourselves and in order to go forward we need to make those choices. Also, I believe the story of A Clean Death has never been told through a novel, which I  believe is a much better vehicle to convey complex stories at the human level, than academic studies and official reports (which I used to write).

What story ideas for your next book are floating around your mind?
A few. I have worked on a plot for a suburban drama around a home owners association, as well as on a plot about the assassination of a third-party presidential candidate who threatens to undermine the two-party system in the US. More promising, however, is a sequel type book about a man (Oliver, perhaps) who lives in three different social worlds and has a hard time adjusting in moving among the three, trying to keep them apart. He tries to escape but he can’t. At the same time, I am translating A Clean Death into Dutch, my mother tongue.

Any final thoughts?
Thank you for doing this. It was fun to do and I hope your readers find it interesting.


Thank you, Adriaan, for adding insight to your work by graciously agreeing to this interview.

A Clean Death is available on Amazon in printed and digital formats. 

Please let me know your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at

I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All Rights Reserved - Elaine Donadio 2018