HALLIE EPHRON: The fall harvest of wonderful books includes a bounty from Kate Flora: two new books, one crime fiction and one true crime.
Kate, who struck gold with her Edgar nominated true crime Finding Amy, follows it up this month with Death Dealer. Then next month she follows her third Joe Burgess mystery, Redemption, which won the 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction, with a new entry in the series, And Grant You Peace.
Crime fiction and true crime. I confess, I can more easily imagine juggling cats. Kate, how do you do it?
KATE FLORA: I can’t juggle. Tried to learn years ago, thinking it might help me draw a crowd at book signings, but every time I introduced the third ball, I hit myself in the head with it. Juggling being out, I went in search of other adventures, and while I was messing around trying to learn to write cops, true crime found me.
My first true crime, Finding Amy, I co-wrote to help out my friend Joe Loughlin, who was the lieutenant in charge of CID at the Portland, Maine police department when Amy disappeared. Research led me to meet Lt. Pat Dorian who headed search and rescue. At the launch party for Finding Amy, Pat said to me, “So, Kate, when you’re ready, I’ve got another one for you.” It turned out to be a murder in Miramachi, New Brunswick.
True crime takes twice as long to write as a novel, and I have to spend years with images of real crime victims in my head. On the flip side, the research gets me away from desk into a world that is fascinating.
The story seemed compelling to me. First, the suspect threatened to harm the investigators’ families when they pressed him about his lies. They hadn’t found the victim’s body, which turned out to have been hidden in the woods. And they had only a small window of opportunity to find it when it had thawed enough to give off scent that the dogs could work on, but before bear emerging from hibernation found the body and consumed it.
It took seven years to get justice for the victim in that case, and for me to have a final ending for Death Dealer.
HALLIE: Tell us about the process you went through to write Death Dealer.
KATE: I started out by getting introduced to investigators who gave me access to the case. I spent hours reading files and doing interviews and watching videos and sitting in courtrooms. I ate a lot of Miramichi salmon drove an ATV deep into the woods to see where the body was hidden. Learned all about training of search and rescue dogs and cadaver dogs. As always, I am amazed at the generosity and openness of the people I interviewed to write this book.
HALLIE: Is there a ‘hero’ of that true story, as there is with your Joe Burgess novels?
KATE: As Joe Burgess likes to say—he doesn’t do it, his team does. In Death Dealer, it was the team of investigators who worked the case; the wardens who organized and participated in that search; and MESARD volunteers.
And then there were the friends of the victim, Maria Tanasichuk, who were terrified of the suspect yet came forward to speak on behalf of their murdered friend. The code of friendship triumphing over any code of silence.
HALLIE: What are the special challenges of making it up versus hewing to the facts?
KATE: Well, I think the challenge of making it up, in a world where our readers are often well-informed by other writers, and real world news stories, is trying to get it right.
When I was working on And Grant You Peace, the new Joe Burgess book that’s out next month, Burgess and Terry Kyle watch a young man they recognized walking down the street toward a convenience store with a suspicious bulge in his pocket that tells them he’s got a gun. I knew they were going to be going into that store, and that it was a very dangerous situation, so I e-mailed two police officers I use as resources, and called a third, and had them walk me through the scene.
That’s the challenge. Writing cops who feel credible.
HALLIE: Does one kind of writing enrich the other?
KATE: Absolutely. What I’ve learned from all of my time with cops informs my writing when I am writing fictional cops.
When you flip that question, all of the time I’ve spent learning to reveal character to a reader, in shaping story so that it has a dramatic arc, in finding the right voice and stance to tell the story—those things have been invaluable when I’m writing a true story.
HALLIE: My hat is off to you, Kate. Years of work and a commitment to justice. And meanwhile you’re spinning out novels.
Kate will be checking in today so feel free to pepper her with questions about how she manages this true juggling act.
ABOUT Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice by Kate Flora
When the hunters become the hunted, life for law enforcement officials and their families in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada, turns upside-down. It takes a months-long investigation by police, search and rescue dogs and their handlers to catch a suspected serial killer.
ABOUT And Grant You Peace by Kate Flora
This 4th book in the Joe Burgess mystery series finds Burgess pulled inadvertently into a case rife with religious tensions after finding a young mother and a baby locked in a closet inside a burning mosque. His search for answers leads him to an outlaw motorcycle gang, a fishing boat captain who may be supplementing his income with illegal activities, and an immigrant community suspicious of the police.