Sara Blaedel, Denmark's Queen of Crime


Above all the amazing experiences I have had thanks to this blog, my most favorite has been having the chance to connect with the authors who make my favorite crime books a reality. I'm always so inspired by their insights into the crime-writing process! Today, I'm beyond thrilled to share with you a chat that I had with Denmark's Queen of Crime, the incredibly talented Sara Blaedel. In our little Q&A, Sara discusses the importance of creating villains with a human side, her process for plotting her novels, her experience as a female crime writer, and much more! Read on for a behind the scenes glimpse into Nordic Noir, from one of Scandinavia's most talented writers.

Crime by the Book: Let’s start with your main character. Louise Rick is a headstrong, independent police officer who relentlessly pursues justice for missing persons in Denmark. More than just a dedicated police officer, Louise is also wonderfully multi-dimensional and, in many ways, very relateable: readers will love exploring elements of her personal life, and watching her navigate and conquer personal challenges. What first inspired you to create this character?

Sara Blaedel: Well, I was inspired by a friend I had back in the early 2000s, but I already knew I wanted to create a character who would embody my own curiosity. I think Louise Rick, with support from Camilla Lind, accomplishes that goal well. Truthfully though, in many ways it feels like Louise Rick found me. Out of the blue, there she was. I saw her very clearly; I knew she worked in homicide with the Copenhagen Police Force. And, I was very curious to get to know her. 

CBTB: Your stories do an excellent job developing truly twisted, dark characters – “bad guys” whose crimes will keep the reader on the edge of their seat. What is your process for creating these characters? How do you go about developing your stories’ villains?

SB: I truly believe that anyone can come undone when darkness takes over. In my books, I always try to show the perpetrator's human side. They’re not pure evil; there is always some sort of explanation that hopefully moves the reader to consider their circumstances and humanity.

CBTB: Your stories also include in-depth portrayals of detective work. I have been so impressed with the level of realism that you have infused throughout your novels – it is quite clear that you have put an immense amount of energy into crafting true-to-life portrayals of detective work. What kind of research went into developing the investigations portrayed in your stories?

SB: I have spent a lot of time talking to pathologists and picking their brains, and am now so grateful to count some of them as friends and advisers. My mission is to ensure authenticity, and that everything reads as realistically and organically as possible. The pathologist is always the first person with whom I discuss my plot. I go to her/his office when the autopsy rooms are empty, clean, and quiet. Then we sit in the big autopsy theatre where homicide victims are autopsied, and discuss the forensic elements I need for the book. We simply go over the details as if the crime had really been committed. She/he describes how the post mortem examination would take place, and what the conclusions of the autopsy report would be. The same goes for the police force in Copenhagen, where I am lucky to have a group of people in the homicide squad who’ve been kind enough to help me. There are millions of essential details that I couldn’t possibly know without gaining insight into real police work. I spend a lot of time on research. The best compliment I ever got was from the Detective Inspector in Chief who once, during an interview on stage, said to me: “Sara, sometimes you would think that you actually work here”. That made me very happy.

CBTB: I’d love to know a little bit about your writing process in general. Do you have a specific method for turning an idea into a full-length story? (For example, do you create an outline for your story to organize your thoughts?)

SB: Oh yes, I create an outline. I have these cards – I call them my plotting cards – in different colors.  Each story within the book gets its own color. Some years ago, I had a “killing wall” in my study, but now I’ve gotten used to this system, which really works for me. Each book has typically 3 or 4 colors and the pile is about 20 centimeters high.  Of course, anything can happen in the heat of the moment, and I have NEVER written a book without taking big turns and veering off course from the plot cards. But they do give me a sense of being in control and keep me on-point.

CBTB: One of my favorite things about Scandinavian crime fiction is how the genre is full of women – both female authors, and the strong female characters their stories revolve around. You and your main character, Louise Rick, are a perfect example of this! What is it like to be a woman working as a crime author? Have you encountered any unique challenges as a woman in this field?

SB: No, I have not. I am, of course, aware that discrimination happens, but I have never felt it. Neither from my colleagues nor readers and the media. I have been fortunate to count many men among my readership.  They seem to love my strong and able female protagonist.

CBTB:  In your personal opinion, what qualities make a truly exceptional crime novel?

SB: I am always most concerned with the human angle of stories. A really captivating crime novel has to be told by a storyteller who has something truly heartfelt to say. In addition, I LOVE a mind- blowingly twisted plot. Not to mention that incredible feeling of actually being brought to the very spot- to be able to feel everything very closely and palpably.  And, viscerally.

CBTB:  I am personally always on the hunt to discover new Scandinavian crime authors. The list of Scandinavian authors whose books have been translated into English and published in the US is always growing, but I know that we are still missing out on many talented authors here.  Who are some of your personal favorite crime authors, and are there any Scandinavian authors who you would like to see introduced to American readers?

SB: There are so many fabulous mystery writers whom I love to read. Michael Connelly and Karin Slaughter are all- time favorites. And I love Jo Nesbo. When I was a child, I read Enid “Famous Five” Blyton. Just recently, Jakob Melander, a great Danish crime writer, was first published in the U.S. 

CBTB: What book are you reading right now? 

SB: It is a little bit embarrassing to say, but this IS a crime by the book blog, right? Actually I am reading a rather large tome about the funeral business.

I am so thankful to Sara and Grand Central Publishing for giving me the chance to chat with one of my favorite authors! This is such a unique experience, and I am so appreciative. I highly recommend Sara's Louise Rick series. Check out THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS and her newest release, THE KILLING FOREST, as soon as possible!