Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How did we wind up hosting Sara Blaedel for her new series in Racine, as well as Milwaukee? And how could we not? A two-part post.

We were working on scheduling an event with Sara Blaedel, the Danish crime writer, author of The Undertaker's Daughter, and were having a little trouble making it work. Our initial date had a conflicting event, and while we could have placed the event outside the store, the market for the two events seemed close enough that they'd split the audience. So then it came up that the first day of sale was free and where else to launch the book but in Racine, the setting for the new novel. 

This is a very special book for Blaedel. After several titles in the Louise Rick series, she's started something new. The Rick series has been a huge hit in Denmark. Blaedel, which I think is officially Blædel, was named Denmark's favorite crime writer in four years, and she won the Golden Laurel, a prestigious Danish literary award. But in the United States, it's been a little trickier. The books have been published by Pegasus and Gallery. Several titles in the series have been renamed. And it turns out that the first book, Grønt Støv, has never been translated.

Now that last hurdle is not that unusual. The first Jo Nesbo, The Bat, came out long after later books in the series. Fantastic Fiction addresses the problem by not mentioning it, starting with #2. But I know mystery readers and that's a bit confusing. In addition, the second book is also not currently available as a new title in the U.S. It was called Blue Blood in the United Kingdom. It was called Call Me Princess in its first go-around in the United States. And rumor has it that it will be renamed The Silent Women when it is republished next fall. I'm not a fan of name changes, but I can see the issues with Call Me Princess, because it either sounds like a YA come-uppance story, an update on The Prince and the Pauper, or maybe a cat memoir (as told to).

As I like to say to crime writers (when they'll let me), if you can't unlock the rights to your first book in your current series, it's time to start a new series. I love the way Elmore Leonard's agent years ago came up with a consistent publishing program across multiple publishers, but short of that, it's likely the books will be a mix of mass market, trade paperback, very expensive print on demand, and unavailable. It's harder to get a reader interested.

So Blaedel made the decision to move the United States and go all in on an American series. And where did she set it? Why, Racine, Wisconsin, one of the largest communities in the United States with Danish descendents. In Blaedel's story, Ilka Nichols Jensen inherits a funeral home from her estranged father, who abandoned the family and left them mom with little more than debts. She takes a leave of absence from her exciting job as a school photographer and, but right away on arrival, things are strange. For one thing, she's immediately under pressure to sell to a local competitor, and for another, she's completely untrained but asked to take charge of an unidentified body, told that the funeral homes rotate through this unprofitable service.

At least for now, I'm thinking that the story is going to have what I like to call The Good Wife arc.  You have the relatively simple mystery of this body, which turns out to be connected to a murder of a girl from more than a decade earlier. And then you have this continuing arc, which will connect the story, which might be two books and might be more. What exactly was her father doing in this funeral home and why are not one, but two funeral homes so desperate to buy it out?

While I do read a decent amount of mysteries, I'm not an expert, so I don't know how often the undertaker or funeral home director as hero comes up as a trope. I thought it was a fresh take, as these are folks constantly dealing with death. It also gives the marketing department the ability to compare it to Six Feet Under, yet another acclaimed television show I've never seen, so I have no idea if it's applicable. But I'm going to assume that it is!

Advance reviews are good. Library Journal said "A great start for mystery lovers looking to dip a toe into international intrigue" and Booklist wrote "This series debut has a lighter, cozier (read as "not too much blood") touch than the author's award-winning Louise Rick procedural series, set in Denmark; fortunately, Blaedel's astute storytelling also works outside the Nordic gloom." I think at least one other review felt that there's a lot of setup in this book - I also got the feeling that things are going to get gloomier as the conspiracy unravels. I found Ilsa an intriguingly reluctant heroine, and enjoyed the local touches. I'm hoping somebody eventually eats at Kewpee, which was my go-to for lunch when I would work at Schwartz Bookshop in Racine, which was open for several years in the aughts.

We're working on two events for Blaedel. First up is a launch at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St, on Tuesday, February 6, 6:30 pm (note time). They will have refreshments and I hope some local  undertakers will be in attendance, as Blaedel did get some help from them on the story.

On Wednesday, February 7, 7 pm, Blaedel will be at Boswell in conversation with Ruth Jordan of Crimespree and Murder + Mayhem. Jordan's been championing Blaedel for a while, and between her and Jon (her husband and fellow winner of the Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America), they can tell you about all the undertaker heroes in series.

Up next, a Denmark display.

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