We asked Denmark’s Queen of Crime, Sara Blaedel, five questions about her “killing wall” and her favourite character in crime fiction. You can find her at IFOA 2017.
By Janet Somerville
Moderated by Ben McNally and billed as a murder of writers discussing international mayhem, this crime fiction panel was marked by intelligence and wit as Sara Blaedel (Denmark), Paul Cleave (New Zealand), Denise Mina (Scotland) and Marc Pastor (Spain) talked about their most recent novels.
In The Forgotten Girls, Blaedel’s Detective Louise Rick is on her way to a new Special Search Unit looking for missing people in a small town about an hour outside of Copenhagen, the town where Blaedel was raised. She notes that she felt it “took courage to return and use my own background in the story.” Cleave’s Jerry Grey is a crime novelist diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, whose reality conflates with his plots in Trust No One. He believes that “if he proves he’s a killer, the universe will forgive him.” Mina’s DI Alex Morrow in Blood Salt Water “says things you shouldn’t really say.” That is, Morrow speaks the truth, however painful it may be, not only to others, but to herself as well. Mina “became beguiled by the fact that she was a cheeky bitch.” This novel is “a holistic look at a crime with four stories that interweave.” Because Pastor is a forensic cop in Barcelona, he didn’t want his detective in Barcelona Shadows to be like him. He wanted him “to be an antihero and sarcastic. I wanted him to be angry with everyone, but to have a moral code.”
On writing, Mina suggests that “writing a crime fiction book a year is good. Writing fast makes it relevant—a snapshot of the time. You put in background noise, but it’s politics with a small p.” Blaedel admits, “I’m writing to entertain people. It was not my plan to be a crime writer, but Louise arrived and I knew she was working in Copenhagen in Homicide.” For Cleave, “sometimes you want the heartbreaking ending. Have them get away in a way that really hurts and bring the reader back to your next book.” Pastor notes, “It’s so zen: I write violence and I arrest murderers.” He confesses, “I don’t do drafts. I have a skeleton of structure. I’m a slow writer. I go picture by picture.” All agree with Mina that “in crime fiction there’s an explosive inciting incident and the rest is shrapnel.”
If you’re a fan of savvy crime fiction that verges on noir, be sure to pick up a title by Sara Blaedel, Paul Cleave, Denise Mina or Marc Pastor.
Follow Janet Somerville on Twitter @janetsomerville
Sara Blædel: Over the years, I have looked at topics like prostitution, internet dating, drug abuse, peer pressure, assisted suicide and much more. In The Forgotten Girls, the story takes place in the historical setting of an all girls home where unwanted girls were abandoned. Fifty years ago, it was custom for local authorities to look after children who, for one reason or another, could not get the care they were entitled to from their own families. When the girls registered at the orphanage, parents were asked to forget that they ever existed. Two of these girls, a pair of twins, appear many years later, many years after everybody thought they were dead. I read about these forgotten children in a Danish newspaper, and the story just would not leave me. It made me really curious.
IFOA: What first got you interested in writing crime fiction?
Blædel: I have enjoyed telling creepy stories since I was a child. And I have always had this voice in my mind saying “What if …” I am a very curious person, I’m afraid. The first crime novels I read were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series—and I was completely and forever lost to crime fiction. I think it is a gift, if you already, as a child, discover the pleasure of sinking into a good story and letting everything else go. I really appreciate children’s literature, when it is able to awaken a love of reading, such as Famous Five did it for me.
In the early 90s, I established a small publishing house dedicated to crime fiction—it was long before crime novels became fashionable, I’m proud to say. I have just always had a passion for crime fiction.
Blædel: Where should I start? I know it sounds diverging to say that I have lots of favourites, but there are different favourites at different times of your life, I think. I enjoy the genre and do read a lot of different writers—also to keep up with what’s going on.
IFOA: Do you have any rituals associated with your writing?
Blædel: Oh yes, but I think I’ll keep my neuroses to myself.
IFOA: What is next for Louise Rick?
Blædel: The next book is going to be published in February 2016 by Grand Central Publishing. It’s called The Killing Forest and it picks up from where The Forgotten Girls ends. Louise has never been more vulnerable, fragile and at the same time strong as she is when The Killing Forest begins. I really hope you’ll like it. It’s about people’s right to choose, how easy it is to judge other people and how easy it is to be stuck or keep oneself fixed in a certain conception of reality and to carry guilt. And the story is also about bonds so strong that even murder may be justified within a group.
Sara Blaedel is the author of the #1 international bestselling series featuring Detective Louise Rick. Her books are published in 23 countries. She lives in Copenhagen and was voted Denmark’s most popular novelist for the fourth time in 2014. Blaedel presents The Forgotten Girls, which introduces readers to the fantastically smart Detective Rick, who is investigating a murder in a local forest. With a startling plot ripe with mysterious crimes, memorable characters and a disturbing ending, fans of dark Scandinavian thrillers will not be disappointed by this unforgettable story.
Supported by Danish Agency for Culture