Crime writer Michael J. McCann: "Cops are bureaucrats, too!"
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 Michael J. McCann to see how a career with Canada Customs informs his crime novels.
What came first? The writer? Or the Customs Officer?
As a youth I was a book reader and a daydreamer. I longed to be able to tell stories like the ones I was reading, but I took quite a while to get around to it. In the meantime, I was a proofreader, an editor, a truck driver's helper, an office clerk, and, ultimately, an employee of Canada Customs.
You spent 15 years with Canada Customs as a training specialist, project officer, and program manager. How does your background influence your writing?
While I was never a uniformed officer, I was fortunate to work with experienced law enforcement officers from across the country. At our training college and our national headquarters I had a wealth of information available to me, and a chance to pick the brains of seasoned veterans. Naturally, I kept my eyes and ears open, and much of what I learned has been applied in my fiction.
Can you give some examples of how real-life events have crept into your work?
As a former public servant, I've avoided writing about actual events on the enforcement side of things, for the sake of confidentiality. Oddly, though, my first-hand experiences with budget management and staff shortages as a manager came in handy when I wanted to write about the harsh effect of the economic downturn on large American cities and their police departments. Cops are bureaucrats, too!
What have you learned about the criminal mind that you’ve injected into your writing?
While researching The Rainy Day Killer, I studied the writings of the famous FBI behavioural profilers John Douglas and Robert K. Ressler on sexual homicide and profiling serial offenders. It was extremely unpleasant work, but necessary in order to achieve the level of verisimilitude I wanted in the story. In general, I've learned that habitual offenders are usually not all that bright. Their behaviour is repetitive and fairly easy to detect by experienced officers.
Michael J. McCann lives and writes in Oxford Station, Ontario. Born and raised in Peterborough, he is the author of The Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series.
Photo credit: Tim D. McCann