by Barb, who is currently serving on a jury in a criminal case
When Kate Flora visited us back in July, she was here to talk about her short story, “Girls Night Out” published by the new venture Shebooks.
Now Kate’s back to talk about Death Dealer, her true crime book, which has been nominated for an Agatha Award for non-fiction.
Here’s the description of Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice.
Death Dealer is a gripping true crime story of committed investigators from two countries and their cooperation in the relentless pursuit of a brutal murderer. It’s intriguing from the moment David Tanasichuk reports his wife, Maria, missing. Explaining the ten-day delay in notifying authorities, David claims that he and Maria were having marital troubles and she had decided to take a break by leaving town. Suspense builds as lie after lie unravels. David’s reputation for violence and drug abuse makes investigators take his veiled threats against them seriously.
Local police, frustrated by a fruitless wintertime search through miles of frozen wilderness, finally enlist the aid of Maine game wardens along with cadaver dogs and their dedicated volunteer handlers. This Law and Order meets CSI drama culminates in a riveting courtroom drama.
Barb: Welcome back, Kate. Your previous true crime book, the Edgar-nominated Finding Amy, scared the stuffing out of me, and not only because I had a daughter who was Amy St. Laurent’s age when I read it. After you finished that book, you vowed, “never again.” What was so compelling about the story behind Death Dealer that you broke your promise?
Kate: What I realized, a year or so after finishing Finding Amy and vowing never again, was that the writing life is a very solitary one, while the researching life, particularly when it involves a lot of contact with experts, can be interactive and fascinating. At the launch party for Finding Amy, the Maine warden lieutenant, Pat Dorian, had said, “So, when you’re ready, Kate, I have another one for you.” So I called him up and asked him to tell me about the case.
That led me on a series of hellish drives up to northeastern New Brunswick, Canada, but the people there were so open and welcoming, and I was quickly convinced, as with Amy St. Laurent, that Maria Tanasichuck’s story—and the story of the officers dedicated to getting her justice—really mattered.
Then I had a conversation with a New York agent who specialized in true crime, and when I told him the story, including the part where the bad guy starts stalking the police and their families, he said I should go find a better story, that no one was going to be interested in reading about a small town Canadian crime. Stubborn Yankee that I am, that was all it took to ensure I’d write the book.
Barb: Death Dealer is the story of the search for Maria Tanischuk’s body and the Maine Game Wardens and cadaver dogs who aid the Canadian authorities. What was the most surprising thing you did to research this book?
Kate: Good question. Certainly among the things that were new and different were:
- Hiding in the mosquito-filled spring woods on a cadaver and search dog training, waiting to be found. Luckily, I only had to be lost. I didn’t have to be a cadaver.
- Driving an ATV deep into the Canadian woods to view the spot where Maria’s body was found. First time on an ATV. We’ll skip the part involving the emergency room.
- Going on a stake out with the Miramichi police, and being the one to spot the thief.
Barb: And on the flip side, what is the most surprising thing you learned as you researched this book?
Kate: I’m not sure you’d call it surprising, but what I learned was that you can have a whole room full of interviews, and criminal records, and photographs, and data, but it still takes storytelling skills to figure out how to present that in a way that will make people want to read the book, care about the characters, and keep turning the pages. So what did I learn? I learned that writing fiction has taught me a great deal about how to write nonfiction, and I learned that spending time in the real world of crime and law enforcement has helped me make my police procedural fiction deeper and more authentic.
Barb: You write both fiction and non-fiction. I’m sure you could write a book about the differences, but I wonder about your mindset. In a nutshell, as you go to your desk every day, what is the difference between making stuff up and uncovering the truth? What is similar?
Kate: What is different? That in writing fiction, I control the characters. I shape them, I give them voices, I direct their actions. In writing nonfiction, I have to learn who the characters are and show them to a reader. It sounds simple. But when you know that real people will be reading the book, it creates a lot of pressure.
What is similar? Either way, I have to make the reader care. I have to make the reader see, feel, inhabit the story. Because either way, it’s storytelling.
Barb: What are you working on now?
Kate: Well…I’m doing the happy dance right now because another one of my nonfiction projects—a collaboration with a retired Maine game warden on his memoir, has just sold. Another fascinating adventure in the world of law enforcement, A Good Man with a Dog is the story of a challenging twenty-five year career in a job where everyone carries a gun. It’s got animal stories, and fishing stories, and amazing search and rescue stories, and cadaver dog stories, and cadaver dogs finding crime victims. And it is the deeper story of how what we ask of our public safety personnel can inflict damage on the people who serve and protect us.
So I’m back to saying: No one had better call up and say, “When you’re ready, Kate, I’ve got another one for you.” But someone will.
Meanwhile, I am writing the next Joe Burgess, And Led Them Thus Astray, and flipping out e-mails to my police advisers constantly, asking questions like: What kind of a rifle would the bad guy use?
Thanks for visiting, Kate. And congratulations on selling the new true crime!
Readers, true crime or no? Writers, anyone out there who, like Kate, writes both?