Backwoods Killings Haunt a Loner Lawyer
By Zoe Dare Hall, Sunday Express, May 15, 2000
Andrew Pyper is leading the way among the bright young things of new Canadian writing. His superb debut novel – a supernatural legal drama which has drawn comparisons to Stephen King and John Grisham – has been snapped up by the film company that made Erin Brockovich and Pulp Fiction.
And while Pyper entertains thoughts of Jude Law in the lead role, the 32-year-old author from Toronto is relishing his first taste of the London literary circuit. “It’s so exciting signing books, giving readings, doing what you’ve dreamed of since you were 14.” His first choice of career – as a lawyer in Toronto’s equivalent of Wall Street, “all suits, towers and American Psycho. I had to get the hell out of there” – may have left him jaded with the legal world but his experience makes for narrative of great acerbity.
In Lost Girls, lawyer Bartholomew Crane, a complex loner who subsides on “nasal breakfast” of cocaine, is sent to a backwater town for his first murder case: defending a teacher accused of murdering his two pupils whose bodies have never been found.
“I’m fascinated by the subject of missing people because it’s sadly so common. Canada has so much land that it’s an ideal spot for psychopaths to dispose of people. I’m always reading about remains being discovered in the woods,” says Pyper.
“The standard psychological and sociological explanations of why certain men do this are inadequate, so I had to bring in the uncanny to explain the inexplicable.”
Pyper’s ghost/thriller bestseller is a striking departure from Canada’s literary tradition, “quiet earnest novels where not a whole lot happens”, he says. He moved to a remote town in Ontario to write – and it provided the perfect setting for Lost Girls. “It was full of the walking wounded on the edge of boundless Gothic wilderness. There’s nothing but the sense of endless North. That scares me and other Canadians. “Multi-generational Ontario people tend to be Presbyterian no-nonsense stock. If they ever saw a ghost, they’d keep quiet about it,” he adds. It’s a more generous description than Crane’s vision of the jury he faces: “An unsightly logiam of humanity, their faces set by experiences and gene pools I’d prefer not even to consider.”
But for all his callousness, the orphaned, impotent Crane is a compelling hero. “He’s a survivor who has developed a disdain for convention in order to survive,” says Pyper. “I pushed him to an extreme place, but he stands for a lot of people who don’t feel connected to community. He becomes more likeable, but I wanted to create a character who didn’t make the right decision at every turn.”
Pyper portrays Crane’s derision of the characters he encounters with wonderful with – one that suggests he has known such types as the despicable employers Lyle and Gederov (aka Lie and Get “Em Off) or the social misfit schoolboy, Laird.
“I worked for a Gederov, an abusive old man for whom I also had great respect. We worked on a case together where we were the bad guys, defending a gravel company who wanted to dig up a natural habit to all kinds of wildlife. It’s too easy to say all lawyers are awful, but we create them – we pay them virtually to lie. It’s more a criticism of human nature.”
As for the character of Laird, the obsessive friend of the missing girls, Pyper says: “He sums up what adolescent maleness is all about: a theoretically sexual perosn who hasn’t a clue where to put that energy.
“Sexuality is about the strange way we concentrate on another person for a period of time. Most people keep this side of the line that separates harmless desire from psychopathic obsession, but it’s a finer line than you think. We have to understand these actions. None of us truly believe that if we simply tinker with the serotonin level of a killer’s brain, everything will be okay.”
Pyper is now working on his second novel. He can’t give much away, but he says it’s thrillerish, totally different from Lost Girls, and partially set in the Brazillian jungle. “And there are no lawyers,” Pyper states, with relief.