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Crime Month

Crime writer Anne Emery on "Trailer Park Boys" and the rare evil genius

John Grisham isn't the only crime writer who's delved into a real-life legal background to help inform his best-selling thrillers. A number of Canadian crime writers have similar day jobs listed on their CVs. 

We caught up with Arthur Ellis Award winner Anne Emery to see how her career in law and legal affairs has informed her crime writing.

What came first? The writer? Or the lawyer? 
The writer has always been here. A classmate from Grade 3 showed me a scrapbook of stories we did that year. Most kids wrote short pieces like “My Puppy” or “The Princess.” Mine was way longer and full of fussy punctuation, and was titled “An Interesting Scene.” Only problem was: it was a mystery, and I didn’t solve it. My first readers must be wondering to this day… er, well, maybe not…
You've worked as a lawyer, legal affairs reporter and researcher. How has your work influenced your writing?
An enjoyment of courtroom scenes comes from my work as a lawyer and reporter. I love writing dialogue, the more so when I get it into the courts. I am particularly gratified when I can have my two main characters, defence lawyer and bluesman Monty Collins and his pal Father Brennan Burke, who does not suffer fools gladly and who was not blessed with the virtue of patience, in a battle of wits in the courtroom.
Can you give some examples of real-life events creeping into your work? 
The McDonalds murders were a major influence on my fifth book. I have also alluded to real-life mothers who gave up their children rather than dump the boyfriends who abused them. Recurring characters include the courtroom bunnies who come to support their insupportable paramours, whether the charge be shoplifting, sexual assault or murder. On a lighter note, I included a perp who re-offended in possibly record time, seven minutes after acquittal on the first offence.
What have you learned about the criminal mind that you’ve injected into your writing?
Think “Trailer Park Boys.” And the wacky, doomed schemes they dream up. Much crime is done on impulse. Rare is the criminal who follows the tough-on-crime debates, and modifies his behaviour accordingly. Rare is the evil genius. But writers look for the fascinating or evil mind, the compelling motive. Not the guy who steals a cellphone, takes pictures of himself on it, calls his girlfriend on it, then, when the police find the phone, insists “it wasn't me.”

Anne Emery is a lawyer and the author of the Collins-Burke mystery series set in Halifax. She has won an Arthur Ellis Award, a silver medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and the 2011 Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction. Her latest book is Blood on a Saint

Photo credit, Anne Emery: Precision Photo

Trailer Park Boys photo courtesy of Showcase.

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