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Photo Courtesy of Hilary Davidson
Hilary Davidson.

A Walk on the Wild Side

In her debut novel, Hilary Davidson asks what causes otherwise good people to do something terrible

As a travel writer, Hilary Davidson (BA 1994 VIC) has explored the best of what New York has to offer. For her new crime novel, The Damage Done, she took a walk on the city’s wild side, visiting methadone clinics, morgues and homeless shelters.

It was all in the interest of creating a believable tale about a murder and the twisted relationship between two sisters. “What would make you kill someone?” Davidson asks. “What would make you lie to the police, or cheat, or steal?” Davidson, who has been writing since she was a child – she won a story contest when she was 8 – creates complex characters who sometimes do horrifying things. In one of her short stories, a kindly grandmother stashes a body in her basement freezer. In another, an endearing banker holds his girlfriend hostage in the cellar.

Davidson says she chose to write crime fiction because she herself loves a good mystery. “I always want to know why people did things,” she says, noting that the people who commit horrendous crimes generally believe they are completely justified. She wonders what catalyst causes otherwise good people to unravel and do something terrible. “What is it that would make this character crack?”

In another life she says she might have been a psychologist. “To some extent, I’m working out my dark side on paper.” Exploring the minds of twisted characters hasn’t darkened Davidson’s sunny outlook, though. If anything, she says, it’s had the opposite effect. “One of the things I’ve noticed about the crime-writing community is that it’s the happiest, sweetest, most supportive bunch of people I have ever encountered.”

Davidson worked for a while as a copy editor at Canadian Living, but decided to give that up to pursue freelance writing full time. In October of 2001, just a month after the terrorist attacks in the U.S., she moved to New York to be with her husband, who is from the city.

As a travel writer, Davidson frequently travels alone to all corners of the world — and although she admits that constantly being “on guard” in a new place gets exhausting, she doesn’t scare easily. She enjoys spending time in cemeteries, and so she fittingly had her author photograph taken in St. James cemetery in Toronto. “You’re not going to get some kind of guarantee that bad things won’t happen to you just because you play it safe,” she says.

The Damage Done is available in the U.S. and in Canada from Forge Books.

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