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Officially, Harry Jenkins’ elderly client, Norma Dinnick, had committed no crime. While she embroidered tales of murderous revenge in a singsong voice, her doctors rubbed their jaws to hide their smirks. Such a sweetly smiling woman could not have committed the cruel and devious acts she so vividly described. Their diagnosis was psychotic dementia with a touch of Alzheimer’s thrown in. Court documents, stamped with a gold seal, declared her mentally incompetent. After all, psychiatrists were not so easily fooled.
-From the opening of A Trial of One by Mary E. Martin
- What do you love about being a writer?
Where to begin? There are so many things I love about writing: the
freedom of thought and feeling, the sense of discovery and the working
out of answers to questions about what it means to be human. For me,
it’s a sort of meditation. Most of all, I love the satisfaction
of completing a first draft of a novel. It’s the most free and
creative step along the way to a finished work.
- What is your biggest challenge as a writer?
Getting the story off the ground in a first draft is the biggest challenge.
Often, I spend a great deal of time [and paper] making notes about
the story, its characters, themes, the mood and the setting. In fact,
I think I have notes on all three novels at least the size of the
- If you were not a writer, what other profession would you
want to pursue?
I practiced estate law for 28 years, which brought me face to face
with families often in a state of crisis. When a person died, so often
I saw many strange interactions among the next of kin. Oddly, when
a parent dies, the siblings seem to return to the nursery to settle
old grudges. Those were some of the most bitter disputes in my legal
work. But the years of practice were, for me, a great inspiration for
writing, allowing me the opportunity to think a great deal about human
- In your opinion, what is the most influential crime novel
of the last 100 years?
Definitely it would be The Strange
Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I
know it was first published in 1886, thus putting it outside the time
period. But, for me, it is the most influential crime novel because
it sets the stage (and the bar) for all subsequent psychological thrillers.
I think it was the first novel which portrayed the struggle between
good and evil all in one man.
- Which fictional hero do you admire or despise the most?
Ebenezer Scrooge. You have to love and hate this man all at once.
He has the Dickensian characterization, which will last for as long
as we read books and want stories. It’s very hard to create
a character with whom the reader can empathize and yet hate with
- After writing, how do you spend the rest of your time?
Probably a lot like most people. I’m very involved with my
family. In a funny way, raising three children is a lot like writing
a trilogy of novels: you give birth and then the real work begins.
Also, I’m an avid photographer, especially when I’m traveling,
and a great reader.
- What city or location has the most impact on your writing?
I was born and grew up in Toronto, Canada and spent many
years practicing law here. All the books in the Osgoode Trilogy are
set in this city. …In Conduct
in Question, Harry goes to an isolated spot on a beach on Lake
Ontario, a great, impersonal, rolling body of water.
I cannot think of a better location in Toronto to convey
the sense of desolation he felt.
- Do your books have a message?
Indeed, they do! …These novels are about how murder and
fraud bursts [Harry’s] life open, causing him to find within
himself powers and abilities he did not know he possessed.
In Conduct in Question, Harry must stop a serial killer,
the Florist, who is a sadist with an artistic flair. He is also
almost sucked into a massive money-laundering scheme… he
is sorely tempted and must decide how much money is enough for
In Final Paradox, Harry must deal with an elderly client,
Norma Dinnick, who teeters between madness and lucidity. … Harry
[finds] … love and forgiveness amid fraud and deceit.
I won’t say too much about A Trial of One, but rest
assured, Harry’s quest for the missing money [in Final
Paradox] ends in Venice where he learns more about himself and
- What are you currently reading?
Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and also The
Passion of the Western Mind, by Richard Tarnas. When I’m
really into writing I never read fiction because it seems to throw
me off course from my own work, so I read …Jungian psychology.
My favorite mystery writer is PD James.
- If you could meet any person (living or dead), who would
Undoubtedly that person would be a writer or a painter. In the writing
department it would be Robertson Davies … I’ve just
re-read his three trilogies … [and] I am amazed to find just
how much this writer has influenced me.
In terms of a painter I would like to meet Edward Hopper
whose work almost haunts me …No matter how much I gaze at his
paintings, I cannot figure out how he so artfully creates and conveys
- What is your greatest vice?
Where to begin? But wait, shouldn’t vices be secret?
- What is your greatest extravagance?
Books…books…books. I would like to build my own personal
great library and surround myself with books. Also, I love to travel
and would pay almost anything for the chance.
- What is your idea of misery?
I could say not being able to write. But that’s silly when
you think of all the truly horrible things that can befall a human
being. I’m the mother of three adult children and if any of
them were seriously harmed that would be misery to me.
- What is your idea of happiness?
Sometimes when I am happiest, people might think I’m not happy
at all. I am happiest when I’m truly into the flow of writing.
But if someone were to watch me, they would often see me frustrated
and apparently unhappy … Sometimes, I’m happiest when
I am struggling and striving as hard as I can. That’s not a
very peaceful notion, is it?
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