Sara Blaedel, Denmark's Queen of Crime, is known for her gritty crime thrillers set in Denmark, but her latest twist-filled novel, THE LOST WOMAN (Grand Central Publishing), is her most personal yet. As Marilyn Stasio put it in the New York Times Book Review: "Although 70 percent of Danes support euthanasia, it's illegal in their country, which drives the narrative into that gray territory where compassion can become a crime and kindness can lead to coldblooded murder."
Breaking the Law to Die with Dignity
Before even sitting down to do my usual obsessive planning for The Lost Woman, the type of intensive outlining and storyboarding that is an essential part of my process for all of my books, I knew I wanted to include and explore assisted suicide as a central theme. The concept became personal for me a few years earlier, after my parents were ill.
My mother, on top of being gravely sick, was suffering a loss of her identity. She tried to convey how profoundly she no longer felt like herself (“I’m not me anymore”), and how certain she was that she didn’t want to keep living with all that she was up against. She described wanting to secure a way out; a door being left open that would lead to freedom. I, of course, as her adoring daughter, was stunned and stricken by the very idea. I couldn’t imagine losing her; couldn’t even think about it. I cried and urged, and tried to reason, but my feelings were completely about my own experience. I couldn’t let go. What’s more, I couldn’t make sense of taking part in the passing of a loved one. For me at that time, it was new territory, and positively unthinkable. I’ve traveled miles since then.
My mother’s journey was the catalyst for my deep-rooted research into assisted suicide. Research is an integral part of my work as an author. Regardless of what I am writing about, it is imperative to me that I bring authenticity to my storytelling, be it about police procedurals, where the tales are set, or the elements that play a role in the lives of my characters (like crime, journalism, foster care, or religion, to name a few). I highly value research, and absolutely love the pursuit of information and an in-depth understanding of any given subject. I’ve developed a close and wonderful relationship with some heroic law enforcement figures, whose work I have studied, and who have been most generous with me over the years, advising, instructing, and making accessible the facts and figures I seek in order to organically capture the work they do. I travel to the locations in which I set storylines, even if it means flying to other countries (like England) or continents (the USA, for example). I go to the very spot where action will play out in my books, and take a measure of the atmosphere. It is super important for me to know how things look, feel, and sound, as I imagine my characters moving through a scene. Getting it picture perfect and pristine is not only a necessity, but a part of the process that I find especially rewarding and exciting.
I was hungry to learn as much as I could about assisted suicide; how it works, what is at stake, the territorial legalities, and the significance of it as an option for those who are suffering severely, with no hope of recovery or chance for an end to their torturous pain. Assisted suicide is an extremely divisive matter, and as such, fierce debates play out across the world. In the USA, it is legal in some states, but not most. Stories of people who have taken their own lives with professional help have graced the covers of magazines and sparked emotional and political arguments. A high-profile pathologist (Dr. Jack Kevorkian) went to prison, willingly, so committed was he to providing relief, self-determination, and dignity to those who felt helpless and defeated. In my home country of Denmark, assisted suicide is against the law despite the fact that 70% of Danish citizens are in favor of the act being legal and available.
What I have tried to do in The Lost Woman is to introduce this urgent and timely issue with balance and honesty. My purpose was not to preach or influence, but rather to promote awareness and show both sides of this important debate. I hope I’ve moved readers to think, discuss, and dig in for their own research, while telling a story they’ll find compelling.
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