By L.J. Sellers
Hilary Davidson smiles like an angel, but she broke into fiction with short stories that are as dark and twisted as they come. After being published in e-zines likeThuglit, Beat to a Pulp, and Crimefactory, she finally fulfilled her lifelong dream and wrote her first full-length crime novel. The Damage Done, called a “razor-sharp debut” by Publishers Weekly, features Lily Moore, a travel writer determined to resolve the disappearance of her troubled sister.
“I don’t have a sister,” Davidson says, “but this story springs from wanting one and being jealous of people who have those tightly bonded relationships.” Davidson does fully identify with her character’s profession–the life of travel writer. Before turning to fiction, she wrote 17 travel guidebooks for Frommer’s and had nonfiction features published in magazines such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Executive Travel, and American Archaeology. Davidson also published numerous short stories and won the 2010 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story for Insatiable.
Yet despite her highly successful and well-traveled life, Davidson didn’t feel satisfied. “I got to a point where I wasn’t sleeping much at all,” she recalls. “I’d had this character traveling with me in my head for years, looking over my shoulder, and I finally had to write about her.” After attending a fiction-writing workshop, Davidson made a decision to cut back on her travel and freelance work and tell Lily’s story.
Reviewers think she made the right choice. Publishers Weekly says, “Davidson…offers a great portrait of sisterly love, despite a dysfunctional past, as well as a highly satisfying mystery.” AndBooklist calls her debut “a tale of nonstop action with a nice final twist.”
In The Damage Done, Lily comes home to New York because she learns that her sister, Claudia, has been killed. When Lily sees the body at the morgue, she realizes it’s not her sister. The dead woman has stolen Claudia’s identity, and Claudia–a heroin addict with a violent history–has vanished. Her sister soon shifts from victim to suspect, and Lily becomes obsessed with searching for her, even though she’s afraid of what she she’ll find. As she goes after Claudia, Lily’s own life starts to fall apart.
“Lily and Claudia share a difficult past and reacted to it in different ways,” Davidson explains. “Lily became a good girl and overachiever, while Claudia became a rebel who ran with a bad crowd and struggled with addiction.” Developing the characters and telling their stories was “a little like method acting,” Davidson adds.
The city of New York also plays a central role in the story. Davidson moved from her home in Toronto to the Big Apple right after 9-11. “Watching the city come back from that…it was a painful but powerful time to be here,” she says. The author explored the Lower East Side for a walking guide book she was writing and came to know and love her new home. Davidson calls The Damage Done “a love letter to New York.”
Her next book takes Lily Moore out of the city and to the county of Peru, “possibly my favorite place on Earth,” Davidson says. “I had the good fortune to spend three weeks there, and it was an extraordinary experience. The wildlife, culture, conservation, and food–everything was incredible.”
That novel, The Next One to Fall, is also under contract with Forge and will be published in October 2011. Davidson is currently working on a standalone thriller and hopes to continue to use her travel experiences–France, Russia, South America, Turkey, Chile, and Spain to name a few–as settings for both her novels and short stories.
She also plans to continue her blog, The Gluten-Free Guidebook, which highlights places around the world where Davidson has traveled since being diagnosed with Celiac disease in April 2004. “I love to encourage everyone to travel,” she says. “I want people to see possibilities, not restrictions, whether dietary or otherwise.”
When asked the ubiquitous question for writers–What authors do you read?–Davidson praises the work of Sophie Littlefield, Dennis Tafoya, Ken Bruen, Megan Abbott, and Dave Zeltserman.
Meanwhile, the lucky authors who received an ARC of The Damage Done have high praise for Hilary Davidson.