This CBC documentary explores why four women love writing crime fiction

The Mesdames of Mayhem tells the story of four female crime writers. Watch it now on CBC Gem.

Every two years, a group of women, ranging in age from their 50s to their 80s, come together to write crime fiction. They call themselves the Mesdames of Mayhem. 

Why do these women love murder?

That's the question the CBC Docs short documentary The Mesdames of Mayhem wants to answer.

"I saw a posting at the Toronto Public Library. I saw this sign on the corkboard that said Medames of Mayhem. They were hosting a panel discussion on women in crime. I was like, 'Mesdames of Mayhem? What is this?'" the film's director, Cat Mills, told CBC Books.

"They were talking about women loving murder. They were talking a lot about justice and the fact that women don't often get justice in the real world. So you can get justice in a crime novel."

Mills, along with producer Felicity Justrabo, interviewed the Mesdames of Mayhem as they worked on their most recent anthology.

The group has released three anthologies so far: Thirteen, Thirteen O'Clock and Thirteen Claws.

The fourth anthology, In the Key of Thirteen, will be released on Oct. 26, 2019.

The documentary focuses on four of the group's members: Lisa de Nikolits, Melodie Campbell, Jane Petersen Burfield and Donna Carrick.

All of them have published work and are very involved in the Canadian crime writing community.

They all have interesting personal histories they explore in their fiction: de Nikolits grew up in South Africa during apartheid, Campbell's family had mob connections, Petersen Burfield's brother-in-law robbed a bank and Carrick's older sister committed suicide when they were young.

"There is a drive amongst crime writers to want to see chaos restored," Carrick said in the film. "But there's also an element of trying to explore that chaos in a safe environment. When you're removed from it, it can be fascinating."

Camera person Nyssa Gluck sets up a shot with Mesdames of Mayhem subject Donna Carrick. (Henry VanderSpek Photography/CBC Docs)

"These women were so interesting and vivacious and courageous. They didn't seem scared of anything. They were so confident and excited and curious," Mills said. "They are pursuing these dreams. It's hard to make it as an author… it takes a certain kind of person to keep at it."

They keep at it because it has given the women a community and a creative outlet.

"Writing allows us to get out all these thoughts and frustrations we have. It's a way of getting through hard times," Campbell said in the film.

You can watch The Mesdames of Mayhem on CBC Gem.


  • An earlier version of the article stated that it was Jane Petersen Burfield's brother who robbed a bank. It was, in fact, her brother-in-law.
    Oct 30, 2019 9:27 AM ET


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