For years, Ilka Jensen has wondered why her father up and left her, never to contact or reach out to her again. Now, decades later, Jensen finds out that her father—now deceased—had settled down in a small Wisconsin town, re-married, had more children, and owned a funeral home. After his passing, Jensen learns that he left the struggling funeral home to her and, after debating it a bit, she decides to leave her quiet life in Denmark behind, heads for the states, and plans to meet her dad’s new family and see about getting the business in order.
But nothing goes according to plan.
Her father’s new ex-wife wants nothing to do with her. Neither does their children. And the funeral home? Well, it’s so far under that Jensen realizes it may be beyond saving. Still, with one funeral was already paid for, she finds the cash to put on the service, only to realize that things aren’t quite what they seem. It turns out, the dead woman isn’t some random victim after all. In fact, the woman had spent years blackmailing Ilka’s father, which, when she begins looking into the past, presents a closet full of dark secrets that could put Jensen in trouble . . . unless she can make sense of the chaos.
Graciously, just ahead of the release of her nail-biting new thriller, author Sara Blaedel agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked her about everything from how she came up with the plot idea for this one to what’s next for Ilka moving forward. See the full Q&A below, then click here to order your copy of Her Father’s Secrets, now available in bookstores everywhere.
TRBS: First and foremost, this book is just fantastic. You had me on the edge of my seat! How did you come up with the story idea for Her Father’s Secret?
Blaedel: The idea for depicting funeral home workers was inspired by the amazing people who handled the arrangements after the deaths of my parents – they died with three days between them. It was such a painful time in my life and I am eternally grateful to the female undertakers who were at once professional and unbelievably compassionate. They took root; they inspired and moved me, and resonated. I was so impressed by them, and their voices and essences remained with me. I realized it would be only a matter of time until they were at the center of my storytelling.
TRBS: What kind of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write this one?
Blaedel: Research is a hugely important and positively necessary part of the work I do- from my earliest days as a journalist and into my career as an author. Authenticity, for me, is essential. That bleeds into every acre and element of storytelling, from the characters and what they do professionally and for fun, to where they live and travel, to customs and laws, to scenery. It runs the gamut. If one of my characters lives in England and looks out of a window, you can be sure I’ve been there on the spot and gazed out of that window. I’ve done an enormous amount of studying up on police procedural for my Louise Rick series, and for this American-set series, I’ve researched the undertaking industry (which has been super-fascinating!), and especially the differences in the laws and regulations from country to country and even state to state sometimes. I’ve learned so much and have tried to bring that insight to my storytelling.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline your books before you start writing them, have a target word count that you try to hit each day?
Blaedel: Once I get into the zone, I work with strict discipline and a tried-and-true process that fits me. I outline and write character profiles, and use cards for my plotting. That said, I don’t engage in any kind of routine that dictates how many words or pages I must write each day. I try to approach my storytelling more organically and according to where I am in the book; how much I feel must be completed has much to do with where I am within the storyline or any given scene. But I write every day, as well as engaging in research and exploration.
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and what is the last really great book that you read?
Blaedel: Amongst my favorite crime fiction writers are the brilliant and masterful ladies: Alafair Burke, Lisa Unger, and Karin Slaughter. The ingenious men I love reading include Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, and Ian Rankin.
TRBS: Lastly, know that Her Father’s Secret is set to come out, what’s next for you, and when can readers expect to see Ilka Jensen again?
Blaedel: Well, I am thrilled to announce that the third in this series will be published next year (I’m so excited about it!) and that I will then be digging back in and revisiting my dear, old friend, Louise Rick. She has much more living to do and many more cases to investigate.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.