I'm beyond thrilled to share a recent conversation that I had with Denmark's Queen of Crime, Sara Blaedel! Sara has been one of my favorite authors for years now, and it's been an absolute dream to get to know her and learn more about her fantastic Louise Rick series.
Sara has a brand-new series installment releasing on February 7th, titled THE LOST WOMAN. In our interview, Sara and I cover everything from how she got into crime writing, to her motivation for tackling the sensitive subjects found in THE LOST WOMAN.
This interview is divided into two parts: Part 1 appeared originally on my Instagram Stories, and Part 2 is exclusive to my blog. In Part 1, Sara answers a few fun, get-to-know-you questions—click on the YouTube clip to watch this video as it appeared on my Instagram, or scroll past the video to read its transcript. Part 2 is an in-depth discussion of THE LOST WOMAN and Sara's Louise Rick series. You'll find this discussion just below the Q&A!
A huge thank-you to Sara for taking the time to speak with me. I hope you'll enjoy learning more about this fantastic Scandinavian crime series!
CBTB: Describe THE LOST WOMAN in one or two sentences.
SB: THE LOST WOMAN is about death, it's about dignity, and it's about a lot of secrets, hiding in the past.
CBTB: THE LOST WOMAN is part of your Louise Rick series, and I know readers are always curious - can they jump into your series with this book?
SB: In my books, you can jump in anywhere you like, as long as it's not the last page!
CBTB: If you could pick 3 words to describe your main character Louise, what words would you pick?
SB: Louise Rick is relatable, she's independent, and in THE LOST WOMAN, she's a little bit too mad about things, in my opinion!
CBTB: Have you been a lifelong fan of crime books? If so, can you remember the first crime author you ever read?
SB: As a child I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton's Famous Five series. They're mysteries for children, and I was one of those children!
CBTB: If you could invite 3 crime authors over for dinner, who would you invite?
SB: I would invite Karin Slaughter, Lisa Unger, Alafair Burke... and I would ask them to invite Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, and then I'd ask them to bring... wait, oh no...
CBTB: Because this is for Instagram, and you've probably seen all the photos of books and coffee or tea, are you a coffee or tea person?
SB: I'm definitely a tea drinker!
CBTB: What's next for you?
SB: I'm writing a new series, THE UNDERTAKER'S DAUGHTER. It will come out here in February 2018!
Crime by the Book: First things first, I’d love if you could share a bit about your career before you started writing. Was novel-writing something you always aspired to, or was it something that you became involved in unexpectedly?
Sara Blaedel: It was never my intention to become a writer! I’m a crime fiction reader, I’ve been reading mysteries since I was a child, and I’ve always loved it. About 25 years ago, I started my own publishing house, just publishing crime novels. And I was in heaven, because it made me read a lot of crime novels too. But at that time, I didn’t ever think about becoming a writer myself.
I was working as a journalist for many years, doing television programs, and in that job people are so stressed - deadline after deadline, new things always coming up. At one point, I was in charge of a very popular television program in Denmark, and one day in the middle of all that stress, I started just telling myself a story. It was never something that I planned to be a book - I just became curious about this story that popped into my head. When other people around me were yelling and shouting and stressed out, I would tell myself that story. Maybe it was my way to escape stress - but it turned out to be my first meeting with Louise Rick! It took me maybe 3 or 4 months before I was aware that I had met a new character, and that maybe I should start writing this story down.
CBTB: Wow, so for 3 or 4 months you weren’t taking notes or anything? It was all in your head?
SB: All in my head, and all for fun - just me telling myself a story. But at one part of the story, I became very curious to know how it would work if it was for real. And I couldn’t figure it out myself, I knew I had to talk to a police officer. So I wrote an old fashioned letter to the former chief of the Copenhagen Homicide Department, and asked if it would be possible to meet one of his investigators. And still, I don’t think I realized I was doing real research! But the next day after I sent that letter, he actually called me and said “That sounds so interesting, why don’t you come in for a cup of coffee?” and not only was that really a huge thing for my story, but thanks to all my years as a crime reader, I felt like I was meeting a superhero! So I said to myself, okay Sara, now you are working on your novel. And that was my way into crime writing!
CBTB: That’s so cool! That ties right into one of my favorite things about your books, which is how you keep police work both engaging and true to life. You have lively characters who people love and can relate to, but you also delve into the facts of an investigation, and bring the reader into how the police solve the crime. As you’ve continued to write, do you keep in touch with police officers for research? How do you make sure the investigations you write continue to be realistic?
SB: When I wrote the first 6 novels in the Louise Rick series, I had almost my own team on the homicide department. They were so cool, and so committed. It’s very important to me to research, and it’s not just to get all the facts right - that’s important, too - but it’s about making people believe that I know how it would be to work in a police station. All those small details - where you park your bicycle, which elevator to take - might not seem important, but they’re important to me, because I want to give readers the feeling that Louise is real. And it’s not just those little details - I also want to get my facts right. I want to convince my readers that I know what I’m doing! If I can get a foundation that’s based on facts, I can run with my ideas from there. I feel more secure the more I know, and then my imagination can really take off.
Now that I’m working on novel number 11, I’m still doing research - I still find it fascinating, and I really like it. I’m curious, and I just want to know more - I want to talk to people, I want to keep learning. I can’t write about things if I don’t have a clear image in my mind of what that would look like. For THE LOST WOMAN, I actually traveled with my son to Bristol in the UK to do research, so I could really see in my mind exactly how it would look.
CBTB: Wow! So did you spot a house that inspired you for that first scene in the book, with the window? (Readers: you can find out what I’m talking about when you dive into THE LOST WOMAN!)
SB: Oh totally! I saw it and I knew exactly where the woman would stand. I don’t know if I could actually write without seeing things - it’s a tool for me, I need to see it. I think it has something to do with my dyslexia. It had a huge influence on me - I was a slow reader growing up because of it, it was very hard for me. For me, it’s all about pictures: when I start writing, it’s as if a movie starts playing in my head.
But then there are times when your story takes over, too. When I was writing my first novel, I thought I knew exactly what it would look like - I had it all planned out. There’s this scene where Louise Rick has a flashback to the very first time that she had to tell someone that their loved one had died. And Louise had such a deep reaction - she almost had a breakdown. I don’t have a clue where that scene came from. That was my first experience with the story taking over. That was so weird for me! I had built up this strong female character, I tried to give her all these strong, tough qualities - and ten pages into my first book, she had a breakdown. This was totally against my plans. I could delete all of it, and make her back to just really strong, but I didn’t - I think that’s who she is. That was her background, and I had to work with it. After I wrote that book, I asked the former police chief if this was totally weird or out of character for a police officer - if it was, I’d have to change it. And he said “If she didn’t have that reaction, I never would have hired her, because I need officers with empathy.”
CBTB: That is so interesting. So she became like a real person!
SB: She did, she became a real person. And she is cool, she is tough, but she’s not made of steel.
CBTB: I think that makes her more relatable, which we all love to read about! You can admire her for her work ethic and independence, but you can also relate to her.
SB: And there is a side where she’s not superwoman, and we had to work with it. But it was so interesting for the first time meeting that side of her, seeing that as much as I prepared, I had to work with it when the story took over like that.
CBTB: My next question is specific to THE LOST WOMAN. This book tackles a subject that makes it such a unique and thought-provoking read. This book deals with assisted suicide. I would love to know what made you want to tackle this topic - because it is something that’s controversial and less “fun” to talk about.
SB: It’s definitely not a very charming topic to put into a novel. Four years ago, I lost both my parents. They were old and brought to the hospital, and we knew which direction things were heading. In my family, we had always talked about death as a natural thing. So I knew that both of my parents felt that when they got to the final stages, they need to have a back door that they could slip out of if necessary. If they came to that point where they were in so much pain, they would like to be able to decide for themselves when the time was. It was something we could talk about very openly. I knew what they meant, and what they wanted.
At the same time, it was so painful to consider that, because I love my parents and I wanted them to stay with me - I didn’t want to think about them leaving me. But that was me being selfish, really, and I realized, when they were in the hospital and they were so ill, I could see exactly what they meant. As my mom said, “but Sara, I’m not me anymore.” And at that point I could say that I understood. It ended up that it wasn’t necessary, but it did open up a lot of thoughts in my own head, seeing my parents that way. At that time, it became important to me to write about it. It’s very much about dignity, and about making the choice for yourself.
I knew I had a story here - and it all came up because I was in this personal situation that made me think about death and dignity.
CBTB: I found this topic so thought-provoking. It’s not something I’ve spent much time thinking about in a personal way - I’ve heard about it in the news of course, but never really stopped to think about it myself.
SB: Exactly. And I’m not writing my books to give my readers my opinion on this topic - I’m writing about a topic that I think could be thought-provoking. I don’t know if people are on one side or another - I wanted to write a story that would show all sides of the topic.
CBTB: I think you did a great job with that - the book isn’t pushing an agenda, it’s just putting the thought out there. And even after you stop reading, that thought sticks with you. It made me wonder, what would I do if I were in that position? If it were my parent? It really made me think.
Switching gears a bit - do you see a lot of yourself in your main character, Louise Rick?
SB: To begin with, I didn’t see myself in her at all. She was a totally separate person. I knew her but she came to me, I didn’t develop her. She was totally independent. I don’t know exactly in which book it started to change - maybe in book 3 - where I started seeing the way we influenced each other. And it’s not just her who has things from me; I also adopted things from her! I’ve now started to see that it’s not just physical things that we have in common - for example areas that we live in - but in THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS, I really dove into my past for the first time. That book was set in my old hometown, and I think that was the first time where I really recognized things that I wrote that were drawn from my old memories.
To begin with it was much more physical things - locations or objects. But now it’s much more drawn from my emotions, my memories, the things that I’ve dealt with.
CBTB: What’s next for you? I know you have a new series in the works - I’d love to know as much as you can share about it!
SB: Of course! I love this new series. I still love Louise Rick, of course! But I’m so excited about the new series. The first book is called THE UNDERTAKER’S DAUGHTER. (That’s the title we’re working with right now, anyway.) It’s about a Danish woman living in Copenhagen. Her father left her and her mother when she was 7 years old. He was a gambler, and one day after a big win, he just disappeared. Years later, it becomes clear that he had moved to the US - to Racine in Wisconsin, which is a small town which has a large Danish community.
All these years later, our main character tries to reach out to her father - she’s trying to find out why he abandoned her, why he never reached out even just once. But he never comes back to her, and he never gets in touch with her. Then one day she gets a phone call, telling her that her father has passed away. They ask her to come to Wisconsin. And when she gets there, it’s not just that she’s in his will, but she actually inherited his undertaker business. So now she is trying to figure out just a little bit about the story behind his disappearance, but instead it opens up a whole storm on her life. You know, when my parents passed away, it was my first time meeting an undertaker - the undertaker I worked with was a young woman who was so good at her ob. As she was leaving, I had a very strong feeling that my next protagonist had to be a female funeral director! It wasn't even a discussion in my head, it just had to be that way.
So this series is a trilogy. And the first book in this trilogy will be out in February 2018 and I’m writing book 2 in the trilogy right now! It’s not a crime novel like I normally write - someone has died, and the police will be there, but we’re not working to solve the crime. It’s very much about relations between people - what happened, and why? It’s more psychological.
I am so appreciative to Sara for taking the time to speak with me and answer all my questions about THE LOST WOMAN. This Scandinavian crime novel is both an engaging mystery and an endearing character study. I consistently love Sara's intelligent, thoughtful brand of crime writing—she delves into the details of police work while also drawing readers into the hearts and minds of her characters.
If you're interested in learning more about THE LOST WOMAN and what I loved about this read, check out my Buzzworthy 2017 Books post here!
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