Hilary Davidson is a bestselling novelist and the winner of two Anthony Awards (for best first novel and best short story), the Derringer Award and the Crimespree Award for her outstanding mystery fiction. A former travel journalist, she is the author of six novels and countless short stories that have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Crimespree, All Due Respect, Crime Factory, Spinetingler and Needle: A Magazine of Noir.

Her newest novel, Don’t Look Down, is the second in her Shadows of New York Series and has “the type of creative finesse that makes a reader keep coming back for more,” according to the New York Journal of Books.

Stay Thirsty Magazine was pleased to visit with Hilary Davidson to explore these Five Questions about her latest work.

STAY THIRSTY: Your latest thriller, Don’t Look Down, has been described as a “fast-paced winner” that is perfect “for crime fiction fans.” Where did the intricate plot of blackmail, sex trafficking, class wars and stolen identities come from?

HILARY DAVIDSON: We’re living in a time of rapid change, and the consequences can be both good and bad – I just prefer to write about the bad ones! I started with the idea of a young entrepreneur named Jo Greaver who’s being blackmailed, and I was thinking about issues around women and ambition. We talk about social mobility in this country as a positive thing, but an ambitious woman is often viewed with suspicion and considered a threat. The shadow of Lady Macbeth still lingers. Jo is secretive about her background, but the reader learns early on that she was trafficked as a teenager. As the victim of a crime she should have nothing to be ashamed of, but her reality is more complicated than that. Jo believes she must keep up a perfect fa├žade with everyone in her life, and that makes her past loom large in her mind. In a way, she’s constructed a trap for herself, because she’s chosen to lie to everyone around her. She’s built an identity for herself that’s impossible to sustain. Of course, she’s not the only character in the story who’s constructed an identity for themselves. In reality, it’s frighteningly easy to do these days, and people make it possible by putting so much information about themselves online.  

Hilary Davidson

STAY THIRSTY: Your story is led by two New York City detectives who encounter the private lives of some of Manhattan’s richest and most private people. Does this book, the second in your Shadows of New York Series, prove that the rich are different?

HILARY DAVIDSON: I think there is one primary difference, and that it boils down to this: the rich don’t fear the consequences of their actions. When you know there’s an endless pile of money to cushion your landing – as well as family connections that will help you if you run afoul of the law – you are far more willing to take risks. You see this play out over and over in Don’t Look Down, whether it’s the young heir who dies in a car wreck while high on cocaine or people who will pay dearly to keep crimes from being exposed. Money also emphasizes your personality traits: there are control freaks in every strata of society, but only a rich one can pay the mothers of his offspring to never see their children again, which is part of the backstory to this book. But you also see characters in the book dealing with wealth differently: some try to distance themselves from the family business, some look to do good in the world, and some think it makes them invulnerable.   

STAY THIRSTY: You have a quotation from Oscar Wilde as the epigraph to your book. Why did you choose that quote and what does it mean to you?

HILARY DAVIDSON: I’m a lifelong Oscar Wilde fan. He made frequent references to Greek myths in his writing, and I love how he turned the story of Icarus on its head in that short verse. Traditionally, Icarus is told as a warning for flying too high or being too ambitious – Icarus flew too close to the sun and the wax of his wings melted, and he fell to earth and died. But in Wilde’s reframing, the tragedy would be not to make the flight in the first place. In Don’t Look Down, there are plenty of people who think Jo Greaver is flying too high, and they would love to see her fall. But I think the real tragedy would’ve been accepting her poor lot in life instead of striving for more.

STAY THIRSTY: Why are people always interested in reading about secrets, tragedies and violence? As a writer, how do you handle these elements to weave magnetic stories?

HILARY DAVIDSON: I think, in our own minds, we are all detectives. We love to ferret out secrets and feel like we know things that other people don’t. I believe that’s part of the enduring appeal of the crime novel, the desire to put the clues together before the author reveals all. What’s always interested me, as a reader and a writer, is the psychology of crime. When you read a newspaper story about violence, you marvel at how a human could do such a terrible thing. But when you’re writing fiction, you’re putting yourself into the heads of other characters, and you see how circumstances may have come together to make a person do an awful thing. The heart of a good crime novel is helping your readers see that, too.

STAY THIRSTY: How important are twists and turns in the crafting of your novels? Do you plan them out in advance or do the characters lead you into them?

HILARY DAVIDSON: For me, there’s nothing more important than character, and most of those twists and turns spiral out from them. When I start writing, I’m aware of what I’ll call the big twists in the book. But sometimes I’ll get an idea as I write that changes everything. I’ll tell you a secret about Don’t Look Down: I wrote a couple of drafts of the book and was just about to hand it into my editor, when I had the craziest idea for a major twist. I decided to write it, even though it meant re-writing two-thirds of the book and moving my deadline a month. But in the end, that was the version of the book by editor and agent and the rest of the team fell in love with. When your brain delivers a jaw-dropping twist, it would be a sin to ignore it.

(Hilary Davidson photograph credit: Anna Ty Bergman)

Hilary Davidson     

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.