Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Dichotomy: di’chot’o’my
Def: Something with seemingly contradictory qualities

Look at all the author photos on this blog. We all look so nice. Smiling, friendly, nice Canadians.

And yet we are compelled to write crime fiction.

I was recently interviewed by US thriller author – and pal -- Keith Raffel for The Big Thrill e-zine. http://www.thebigthrill.org/2010/12/indefensible-by-pamela-callow/
His final question to me was why Canada produces such terrific crime writers.

Of course, like any good Canadian, I attributed it to our long, cold winters.

I think there could be an element of truth to that.

But what interests me is why the question was asked. Do we Canadians seem too nice to write dark stories?

When DAMAGED (MIRA Books), the debut novel of my legal thriller series, was released in June, the fact I had written a dark, suspenseful thriller with a serial killer known as the Body Butcher took many people I knew by surprise. I was the neighborhood mom, class mother, soccer team manager, field trip chaperone - the list goes on.

Several weeks after my book came, one of my fifteen-year-old neighbours called me. “Pam, I read your book! It was sooo good. And creepy!” she exclaimed, her voice breathless. Then added, “Oh my gosh, I thought you were this nice mom!”

Of course, my immediate reaction was that of a mom – some of the scenes were written in the killer’s point of view, and were rather disturbing. “Do your parents know you read it?” I asked.

After being assured they did, I was able to joke with her about it. But I’ve had a number of people make this comment to me. My homicide detective swears. My main character, in a moment of emotional distress, drops the F-bomb. People were shocked that I would use that language. “We’ve never heard you swear like that, Pam!” I explain that these are my characters. They are in extreme situations. “Gosh” doesn’t seem to cut it. Sometimes, when I’m being mischievous, I add, “You don’t know what I say in my head.” That often elicits a nervous chuckle.

And that is what seems to be unsettling. I seem like a nice mom. (And I am! Really! Trust me…) Yet I write about dark, disturbing crimes. The dichotomy of perception versus reality. It is a theme I explore in INDEFENSIBLE, the second book of my thriller series. Kate Lange, a lawyer at a prestigious law firm, has just survived a very traumatic event that occurs at the end of DAMAGED. She’s suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, but to the world, she’s a minor celebrity. Then the ex-wife of the managing partner of Kate’s firm is found dead. The evidence stacks up, and he is charged with her murder. Again, perception plays a role in how the credibility of the evidence is weighed by various characters, including managing partner Randall Barrett himself. He also grapples with the perception of his own identity, as everything by which he defined his life – his profession, his career, his social status – crumbles beneath him.

I have been asked in interviews why I write crime novels. When I read about a crime in the newspaper, I often wonder what I’d do in that situation. And I believe that is why many readers love this genre. Crime novels allow readers to experience the gray area that exists between the black and white of the rule of law.

That is why my main character, Kate Lange, has no particular crime-solving skills. She’s not a detective. She is not a Crown Prosecutor. She is just an ordinary woman thrown into an extreme situation (more than once) and has to use her smarts and her willpower to survive. She has to figure out the cost of doing the right thing.

And why do Canadians produce terrific crime fiction, as my pal Keith Raffel asked? Perhaps because our laws reflect this need to weigh the cost to the individual versus the public of doing the right thing – and we Canadians have many cold winter nights to speculate on what would happen when those laws are violated…

What do you think?

Inspired by a US tissue harvesting case, Pamela Callow wrote DAMAGED, her debut novel and the first book in her legal thriller series for MIRA Books. Pamela drew on her experience working in a blue-chip corporate environment to create series lead Kate Lange, a struggling thirty-something lawyer. DAMAGED was a Levy Home Entertainment June “Need to Read” Pick, with Top Ten Bestseller placement. In INDEFENSIBLE, book #2 of the Kate Lange thriller series, the managing partner of Kate’s firm is accused of domestic homicide – and his defense lies in the hands of the one person who knows too well the taint of criminal scandal: Kate Lange.
Prior to making writing a career, Pamela worked as a strategy consultant for international firm Accenture Consulting. She is a member of the Nova Scotia Bar, and has a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
Pamela lives in Nova Scotia, along with her husband, two children and a pug. She loves to go for walks (unlike her dog), drink coffee, and is currently working on the next two books of the Kate Lange thriller series, and a short story for the International Thriller Writers THRILLER 3 anthology. You can find Pamela at her Facebook Book Page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pamela-Callow/ , twitter http://www.twitter.com/ , or contact her via her website http://www.pamelacallow.com/


  1. Yeah - I think you're right about the winter thing. These endless ice storms and frigid, biting winds can cause cabin fever, and make some of us want to whip out a meat cleaver when the weather man comes on tv :).
    Love your books, Pam!

  2. LOL, Julianne! Perfect illustration of the point I was making .

    Thanks for dropping by!


  3. Pam, great column. I'm sure that those long, dark Canadian winters do indeed foster great crime writing. One thing though: I'm not sure that winsome facade of yours is fooling quite as many people as you think!

  4. Great post, Pam. I'd never really thought about it but maybe it is the cold winters. (Thinking now of The Shining and Jack Nicholson sitting at his typewriter.) Whatever you're doing, keep it up. Love your books!

  5. Maybe it is also because our lives seem to run at a slower pace. We have time to think things over, sometimes a great deal of time during those quiet dark months. We can reflect on what we might do if we were in the place of a victem - or the killer. :)

    Keep surprising people with what you write - it seems to be a formula for success!

  6. Hi Keith,

    Thanks for dropping by - and for inspiring this post! Glad you liked it. I always knew you saw right through me! :)


  7. Bev - thanks so much! Might have to rent the Shining again...

  8. Hi Lilly - certainly, our lives seem to run at a colder pace than some! Maybe it's the fact that darkness falls early in the winter...more opportunity for crime? Thanks for dropping by!


  9. I can relate to the dichotomy, Pam. My mother-in-law used to ask me when I was going to write something "nice" for a change.

  10. an interesting post. Maybe we wouldn't be so 'nice' if we didn't write?

  11. Who you callin' nice? Ha! We write terrific crime fiction because we care about justice and we don't believe that things are always the way they seem. I come from the Nova Scotia city that brought you the Donald Marshall case and that was a lesson for me. It's all worth fighting for and writing for and needs a few F-bombs too.

  12. Definitely agree, it's the weather! Those cold, winter nights or mournful foggy dawns are made for murder and mayhem.