I’m appalled these days, as most people are, to see liars masquerading as truth-tellers and disruptors hailed as heroes, so the murder mystery genre offers a satisfying alternative: a world in which the truth is always discovered and justice prevails. The genre is all about restoring balance to a broken society, so no wonder it enjoys universal appeal.
Before you were a bestselling author, you had a twenty-year acting career. What was the process of taking the leap from actress to author?
It began with some soul-searching when I turned forty. I’d enjoyed a fine career as an actor, but I knew that women’s roles become fewer after forty. I had already dipped my toe into writing, so when a short story of mine won a contest, which thrilled me, I decided to fully commit to writing, although with trepidation. The hardest moment was when my actors’ union dues came up for renewal and I let my membership lapse. It was kind of traumatic, because being an actor had been my identity and I thought, “If I’m not that anymore, but not a real writer yet, what the heck am I?” I spent the next three years writing my first novel. Happily, it attracted top New York literary agent Al Zuckerman who sold it to Penguin, and that book became the first in my Thornleigh Saga series.
Your seven-book Thornleigh Saga series is set in sixteenth-century England. When working on a new book, what is your approach to research?
I love doing the research for a book. My Thornleigh Saga novels follow a middle-class family’s rise through three turbulent Tudor reigns, so researching the period was hugely important. In addition to non-stop reading, I spent a month in England walking in the footsteps of past royalty, soldiers, theater troupes, and washerwomen. For my thrillers, the research has often led to marvelous experiences. In The Experiment the main character lives aboard her sailboat in New York, so I explored a funky marina in the Bronx where a friendly skipper took me sailing on Long Island Sound. For The Man from Spirit Creek, I interviewed a ranching couple in northern Alberta who invited me for dinner where I ate the best strawberry-rhubarb pie I’ve ever tasted.
What is the inspiration behind your latest book, The Deadly Trade?
The Deadly Trade is a murder mystery in which the main character is an animal rights activist, and she becomes entangled with profiteers in the illegal global trafficking of wild animals, a brutal business whose profits rival those of the drug trade. The story was inspired by my husband’s long-time work alongside his colleagues at Animal Alliance of Canada, dedicated folk whose mission is “fighting cruelty wherever we find it.” As for the menacing profiteer in the book, the inspiration for him was Donald Trump: a lying, bullying, amoral conman. Writing his come-uppance felt very good indeed.
The Deadly Trade is set to be the first book in a series of murder mysteries. Can you share any details of what is to come?
The series features Natalie “Nat” Sinclair and her team of volunteers as they rescue abandoned and abused animals, so in future books readers will see Nat saving scores of bear cubs orphaned in Ontario’s spring bear hunt, going undercover on a Hollywood film location to investigate the mistreatment of horses, and tramping the English moors with a homicide detective and his cadaver search dog – plus, of course, there will be some very unpleasant murders!
What appeals to you about exploring the murder mystery genre? Do you have a favourite murder mystery trope?
I’m appalled these days, as most people are, to see liars masquerading as truth-tellers and disruptors hailed as heroes, so the murder mystery genre offers a satisfying alternative: a world in which the truth is always discovered and justice prevails. The genre is all about restoring balance to a broken society, so no wonder it enjoys universal appeal. I especially like mysteries set in different cultures or eras, such as India during the Raj in the novels of Sujata Massey, the Moscow of Stalin’s oppressive Soviet Union in William Ryan’s Captain Alexei Korolev series, and ancient Rome where Lindsey Davis sets her Flavia Albia series. Armchair travel, captivating characters, and justice overcoming evil: who can resist?