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BC Bookworld Interview with Lyndsay Smith: Smith Advocates Suspense

A widow, a narc and a pusher - that's the triad of good guys in Lyndsay Smith's Proximate Causes, a police procedural set in the Lower Mainland.

Although her husband is an undercover RCMP cop, Smith says he didn't read Proximate Causes until she was finished. Smith didn't need many tips. As an organized crime specialist, she prosecuted B.C.'s largest cocaine conspiracy as of 1994, a process that involved death threats and rocket launchers. (Her husband only helped her by acquiring an etymological report on how bugs can affect a decomposing corpse.)

"I started the novel when I was on maternity leave with my son," she says. "The moment he napped, I started mapping it out. I had no idea how it would end, I just loved the process of writing. Then I had a second child. The First draft took me two-and-a-half years. That was the easy part."

Smith says she made the classic mistake of sending everything to New York. Faraway publishing houses and agents gave conflicting responses but "it was good to learn how subjective that whole process can be," she says.

While attending a criminal trial, Smith's husband mentioned his wife's manuscript to a North Shore News reporter, Anna D'Angelo, who arranged for it to be considered locally. "I still remember the day I came home from a run," says Smith. "My husband was at the end of our driveway, waving wildly. I thought something very bad must have happened. The publisher had called."

The manuscript was then sent to editor Mary Schendlinger. "It was more like ironing than editing," she says.

Proximate Cause is a title derived from a legal term implying that one thing in life can irrevocably lead to another. To avenge the death of her murdered husband, the widow of a Vancouver broker meets Danny Fox, an addict and small-time trafficker who, in turn, has unwittingly crossed paths with Jackson Cole, an undercover cop, during an eight-ball match. (Smith's favourite character in Proximate Cause is the heroin addict, Danny Fox, who shows his potential in the end.)

Although Smith's skid row pool-playing experience is minimal, she makes trafficking scenes in doorless washroom cubicles seem as plausible as encounters on Whistler ski runs.

"I've done ride-alongs with the police," she says. "I know where the trafficking goes on. In criminal law you spend time in lots of places where you won't want your mother or sister to go. At the same time I've learned that lots of people in the drug trade are sympathetic characters, good people whose potential has been destroyed."

She acknowledges an important connection between writing and criminal law, beyond subject matter. "I've always liked the French word for lawyer," she says. "It's advocate. In my job, you're always advocating, always persuading. You have to take someone from A and move them all the way to Z.

"Plausibility and pace are important in the courtroom and on the page." Smith says the local in show Da Vinci's Inquest does a good job representing the look and feel of Vancouver's mean streets. "In Vancouver, you can go from opulence to grit in a five-minute cab ride," she says.
-BC Bookworld

Review by The Globe and Mail
This is a first novel, set in British Columbia, and written by a lawyer and former prosecutor married to an RCMP officer. Ordinarily, that would mean an overwritten potboiler with lots of extraneous information and the usual endless courtroom scenes but Lyndsay Smith has resisted those temptations and, instead, turned out a solid suspense novel with some really nasty bad guys. The characters - artist and widow Lauren Grey, RCMP officer Jackson Cole and excon Danny Fox - are drawn together by information. Cole and Grey want it, Fox has it, but what he knows leads all of them into a netherworld of organized crime and the Vancouver drug scene. For a first novel bashed out by a lawyer on maternity leave, this is better than fair.
-The Globe and Mail

Mystery Writer Rides The Sizzle
Vancouver is on the map when it comes to crime, with such television shows as The X-Files and Da Vinci's Inquest. But a growing number of lawyers-turned-authors are looking at the Vancouver crime scene as fodder for fiction. And Lyndsay Smith has had a front row seat as a drug prosecutor for nine years.

Like Bill Devrell, John Banks and Jay Clarke - all Vancouver lawyers who have written crime novels based in the lower Mainland - Smith has parlayed her experiences and insights in the courtroom to the page.

Smith's first book, Proximate Causes, tells the story of an artist looking for answers about her husband's mysterious death, an undercover RCMP detective on suspension for a shooting and a heroin addict who ends up helping both.

"I wanted to write a fast-paced fun read," Smith said in an interview. Smith was a prosecutor for nine years in Vancouver, and loved it. She's married to an RCMP officer in charge of a homicide unit.

"No wonder there are so many crime shows on television. If you can do it for a living, it's an absolute gas. My husband calls it 'the sizzle.'"

Smith started writing Proximate Causes while on a six-month maternity leave. A crime plot seemed natural.

"When my husband and I went to parties and talked about daily life at our house, people would say, 'That sounds like a movie.' People don't encounter this kind of stuff on an everyday basis."

The manuscript took three years to write, and another two to get published. Smith sent the manuscript to New York, and received "several delightful rejection letters." She even wrote Kathy Reichs, the Canadian forensic anthropologist whose first book Deja Dead, became an international best-seller, and Reichs called her back. "She was wonderful and encouraging."

Smith has another book mapped out on corruption, and is trying to squeeze in time to finish it between her job as commission counsel for Smith Commission of Inquiry into the Regulation of Charitable Gaming Societies, and being a mother of two.
-Kim Westad, Victoria Times-Colonist

Proximate Causes
There's a nether world out there of biker gangs, multi-million-dollar drug deals and murder and mayhem that would put the Marquis de Sade to shame.

Lyndsay Smith has seen it all as a Vancouver attorney. She prosecuted the largest cocaine conspiracy in B.C. history. That her husband works as an undercover cop probably gives her additional insight into the criminal underworld.

All of this gives the plot of Proximate Causes a definite ring of authenticity. Smith's terse, understated writing style adds to the effect. We aren't told whether or not any of this story came out of her real files, but it isn't hard to believe that it could all be happening. We do know that the gangs are well established in B.C's Lower Mainland, and that the police have become alarmed at the size and sophistication of their operations. Undercover RCMP sergeant Jackson Cole, a cross between Dirty Harry and CTV's Constable Benton Fraser, gets some information that could incriminate the city's biggest biker gang. From there, we get to see the crooks and the cops operating in their parallel universes, each using their high-tech tools and their own particular brands of intimidation. It's manipulation and pressure from the cops, brutality and terror from the crooks.

Readers should undertake the first 100 pages at one sitting so they'll understand the cast of characters, who enter the story in a series of abrupt switches. Otherwise, it's an orgy of murders (one shotgun-in-the-face execution is graphically portrayed), two, possibly three suicides, and a mega take-down of an ambitious scheme to manufacture cocaine on a deserted Langley farm. . . a gory crime story, written with the confidence that comes with knowledge.
-Verne Clemence, Quill and Quire