HILARY DAVIDSON
Mystery Scene|Fall #169, 2021
Call it The Case of Life Imitating Art.
John B. Valeri

Like many writers before her, Hilary Davidson—author of July’s standalone suspense novel, Her Last Breath—found her earliest inspiration in Nancy Drew. It was an entry point into worlds of crime and intrigue that sustain her to this day.

“The earliest Nancy Drew books had wonderful pen-and-ink drawings in them, and Nancy herself was both a bit younger and more outspoken,” she says. “As I got a little older, I turned to Agatha Christie books, and then to Robert B. Parker and Sara Paretsky and Walter Mosley. I think if there’s a thread that unites them, many of the authors I loved were writing about social issues through the lens of crime. My reading opened up a different way of looking at the world.”

Before turning to fiction herself, the Toronto-born author—who has also written 18 nonfiction travel books—pursued a career in journalism. It proved a fertile training ground.

“Honestly, the most transferrable skill has been the discipline of writing every day. When you’re a journalist, there is no waiting for the muse to visit. Ready or not, you start typing and meet your deadlines, or die trying!” Davidson remembers. “Travel writing, in particular, was really good training because you’re forced to write anywhere and everywhere. I might be on a bumpy bus ride or sitting next to a crying baby on a plane, but I was still writing.”

An internship with Harper’s Magazine led Davidson to move to New York temporarily, though a year later she would meet the man who would become her husband and necessitate a permanent move back to the city in 2001.

“I fell in love with a born-and-bred New Yorker, but I also fell in love with his city,” she says. “New York is an incredible place to write about because people from every corner of the globe pack up their dreams and come here, thinking this is the place where they’ll make those dreams come true. You have the most incredible extremes of wealth and poverty existing almost side-by-side.”

Davidson, whose travel writing was often sanitized by editors wary of offending advertisers, came to a revelatory conclusion: “Ironically, I feel like I can be more truthful with fiction in a lot of ways. The characters aren’t real, but the issues are.”

As a result, she drew on her love of reading crime fiction to begin writing it.

“I think everyone wants to believe that justice exists, even if it feels like there’s so little of it in the world sometimes,” she says. “Crime fiction engages with the real-world issues that don’t have easy solutions, and it includes characters that are pushed to the margins of society and those who prey on them. It deals with the concept of evil, which is something that’s tough to confront in day-to-day life.”

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