With The Tenant, Katrine Engberg has written an excellent first novel. One with a clever, intriguing concept in addition to interesting, fleshed out characters and good plot twists.
Esther de Laurenti owns an apartment building which contains two young women and an elderly gentleman. As the book begins the gentleman discovers one of the women is dead. So far, not so wild, right?
But then it is discovered that whoever killed her used details from a murder mystery novel Esther is writing, specifically cuts along the victims face. Esther says she’s not the killer but that the number of people with access to the details of her story is limited.
Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case and they are interesting characters. They try to determine if Esther is the culprit or just another victim in the killer’s twisted game.
Katrine is a former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater.
She agreed to let me interview her by email for this first book in a series. The book s getting praise from such authors as Kathy Reichs and Camilla Lackberg.
Scott Butki: How did you come up with the idea for this story?
Katrine Engberg: A few years ago, I was taking a walk with my family in an area north of Copenhagen when I happened to notice a nameplate on the door of a house as we passed by. It read “Family Laurenti.” In that instant, a woman named Esther de Laurenti moved into my head. I can’t explain how it happened, but she was crystal clear to me in every little detail: I knew that she had dyed red hair cut short, drank too much red wine, and was a retired professor of literature working on the draft of her first crime novel. That was the beginning of The Tenant.
SB: Which came first, plot or characters?
KE: Plot, characters, and environment came simultaneously in the form of little jigsaw puzzle pieces that, at first, didn’t really connect. I had ONE character, ONE plot idea, and ONE location; everything else was a blur. But then connections slowly built, more pieces came together, and the story started to unfold.
SB: How did you research this book?
KE: I had to learn everything from scratch. My background is in dance and theater, so my knowledge of police work and forensic pathology was limited — to say the least! Fortunately, people are very willing to share their knowledge with aspiring authors. I rode in a Copenhagen Police patrol car and was allowed to go everywhere, from crime scenes to the ER, with the officers — as long as I kept quiet and wore a bulletproof vest. I learned a lot from those experiences!
SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
KE: To me, crime novels can and should be about more than violence and suspense. I hope readers will connect with — and care for — my characters. I strive to make what is in many ways a wildly fantastical genre into something relatable for them. I myself grew up with crime novels that were also love stories, political comments, and just all in all great literature. That is a literary tradition I wish to continue.
SB: What is it like being described as “already an international star”? And being published already in more than 21 countries?
KE: The short answer is: it’s great! I would be lying if I pretended not to be stoked about my success. Having so many readers has to be the ambition of most writers. That said, labels like “international star” are just … well, labels. What really makes an impression is the direct response I get from readers — in person and on social media. THAT makes me feel successful and happy!
SB: I understand you went from a dance education to working in theater and TV, first as a dancer, then as a choreographer. How did you get from that point to becoming a mystery novelist? And how has that background helped you as a writer?
KE: I grew up in a home full of books and learned to love literature from an early age. My mother was always telling stories to my sister and me — at bedtime and on the long walks up Greek mountainsides that she always forced us to take. She also taught me to love the theater. For me, the two worlds are closely intertwined; telling stories is the same whether it’s done with bodies on a stage or words on a page.
SB: I understand you had to make the decision between being a theater director and a crime author. How did you go about making what must have been a hard decision?
KE: It was actually the easiest decision of my life. I debuted as an author and as a theater
director within the same week in February 2016, so you could almost say I had a vertical tasting of the two careers. Both things went well and had potential, but I had absolutely no doubt in my heart which of the two I wanted to pursue. I actually told my husband on the opening night of the play: “I am giving up the theater. I know life as a writer is uncertain, but I only want to write for the rest of my life!”
SB: What are you working on next?
KE: At the moment, I am writing the next book in the series. It is a very dark and rough book, revolving around a theme of loneliness. So it probably sounds crazy to say this, but I am having so much fun with it.
SB: I call this my bonus question: What is a question you wish interviewers would ask? This is your chance to ask it and then answer it.
KE: What is the significance of the tattoo on your wrist?
Under my wristwatch, I have a tattoo of three dates: My wedding day, the birthday of my son, and the death date of my father. These life markers remind me every time I look at the clock that time is short and life is truly a gift.
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