Woman of the Dead is both a thriller and a love story. Blum, like Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter, is a serial killer, a character who does terrible things, but the novel wouldn’t work if you didn’t sympathise with her and feel her pain.
To make this work, I needed to get under Blum’s skin and feel what drives her, and to do that I asked myself whether I could ever kill. The answer wasn’t the one I was expecting – I was unnerved to find that I could imagine myself contemplating revenge if I was in terrible amounts of pain; if something had happened to my wife or children.
Like most writers of crime fiction, I have always been fascinated by the taboos around death. For my previous novels, I had talked to gravediggers and forensic scientists; I’d spent afternoons walking around cemeteries. But to write Woman of the Dead, I realised I had to get even closer to death. Let me explain: I wanted Blum to be an undertaker. That worked from a plot point of view: I wanted her to have a way of disposing of her bodies without attracting undue attention. But I also wanted to write about death from an unusual angle – all crime fiction comes down to death but I wanted to write something different; something darker. So I went to an undertaker in my home town of Innsbruck and asked whether she could give me an introduction to the world of the dead. She said she would but only if I didn’t just stand around watching and taking notes; only if I got involved. I worked for that undertaker for six months. It was the most humbling thing I have ever done.
Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner is published by Weidenfeld