I’ve always been fascinated by evil. Maybe that’s because I spent 34+ years in education. Of course, most children are not born wicked - though some people are, I think. It’s always been intriguing to me how one child who lives in terrible conditions can turn out to be kind, thoughtful and even an advocate for righteousness, while another whose home life is rather ordinary can be a sociopath or psychopath.
The heroine in my books is an elementary school principal whose own life has been touched by malevolence. Perhaps that’s why she’s drawn to circumstances that involve violence and terror. In my first novel, The Bridgeman, Emily Taylor discovers a monster in the midst of her small community and school.
When I first created this monster, I wrote him up as a character sketch. I’d been passing by a drawbridge in a little Ontario town one sunny afternoon when I noticed the operator in his little booth. Not one other pair of eyes appeared to be drawn to him. I thought about what might lie beneath a person who, on the surface, was an unassuming, hard-working individual. Invisible to most, he could be committing all kinds of nefarious deeds. One thing led to another and my “bad boy” morphed into a very evil man.
My books are somewhat dark and tend to deal with very grim circumstances in life. (Somewhat like Minette Walters, I’d like to think.) Now and then a reader asks me how on earth I came up with such topics (because I look so innocent, I guess). I always respond, “Have you read the newspaper lately?” I can’t help it – I am absolutely mesmerized by the evil that human beings inflict on one another, our fellow Earthlings, and the planet itself. Although that sounds perhaps very pessimistic and depressing, I am at heart an optimist. Thus writing mysteries is very satisfying because, in the end, good always triumphs.
In the case of The Bridgeman, my monster abuses animals. For instance, he manages, along with some malevolent partners who are truly vile, a puppy mill. At the time, my niece worked for a veterinarian who cared for animals released from these horrors by the Ontario Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I didn’t have to exaggerate or even imagine the conditions to which the poor innocent dogs were subjected: I simply recorded my niece’s firsthand experiences. As they say, truth is stranger (and sometimes more horrible) than fiction.
But the best part is that the monsters get their comeuppance; justice prevails. The animals are rescued. Peace reigns in my village once more and great lessons are learned. Despicable Him does not get to enjoy the fruits of his evil. I think I love to read mysteries partly because there is, almost always, a positive resolution, a hopeful, happy outcome. Unlike the stories you sometimes read in the newspaper, the bad boys (or despicable gals) are always punished.
Next... Garry Ryan reports from the Big Bad Apple.