SMITH, Lyndsay

Author Tags: , Fiction

As the author of the crime novel Proximate Causes (1999), Lyndsay Smith was working as Vancouver attorney who had specialized in organized crime and drug conspiracies for nine years, in cases involving death threats, witness intimidation and weapons ranging from semi-automatic submachine guns to rocket-launchers. Her knowledge of crime was enhanced by her marriage to a police undercover operator in charge of an RCMP homicide unit. See review.

[BCBW 2004] "Fiction"

Proximate Causes (Harbour $17.95)

A widow, a narc and a pusher—that’s the triad of good guys in Lyndsay Smith’s Proximate Causes (Harbour $17.95), 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 can 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 advocat. 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 TV shows Da Vinci’s Inquest and The Cold Squad are doing 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. 1-55017-214-X