On serial killers, the lure of mysteries, and the writing life

Shadow Puppet Blog

On serial killers, the lure of mysteries, and the writing life

Posted on February 21 by Jeffrey Round in Fiction, Interview, Mystery, Recent Releases
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PI Dan Sharp interviews his creator, writer Jeffrey Round


DAN SHARP: If I might dive directly into the subject at hand, what drew you to the story of Toronto’s now-notorious serial killings?

JEFFREY ROUND: Let me say first that although I’m known for writing mysteries, yours in particular, I never intended to become a mystery writer. As for serial killers, I swore off the subject long before writing mysteries in earnest. I always thought of them as tawdry and sensationalistic, not to mention opportunistic. I didn’t want to exploit someone else’s grief. As a general subject, they don’t interest me at all.

DS: So what changed your mind?

JR: You did, in part. Even while I resisted, I felt you thinking about the posters for the missing men that were showing up in the LGBTQ community in Toronto with alarming regularity between 2010 and 2017, even though the police were still not admitting there might be a serial killer in our midst.

DS: Was this a way of addressing the community’s concerns?

JR: In a way. My research started much as yours did – with online investigations that showed there was no indication police were looking at the gay angle. If you didn’t know where these men socialized, you might never know there was a common link between them.

DS: But you did?

JR: Not just me. I read a couple of online pieces by community members venting their frustration at trying to get Toronto police to listen. Their friends were missing, but they were being told they had probably moved away without letting anyone know or that they had gone on a drug bender and would return one day. It was insulting and ridiculous.

DS: What was the tipping point for you? Was there something personal that made you think you had to write this story?

JR: There was, in fact. In December 2015, there was the sensational murder of doctor Mark Ernsting. Mark and I had dated briefly a number of years before. His death, a brutal stabbing, did not fit the pattern of the others, but the issue of violence against community members is always an issue.

DS: And this was all before anyone was arrested for the disappearances?

JR: Long before. The pattern that I and others noticed was that all the men who went missing before 2017 were non-white. Then the disappearances stopped for a while and we all breathed a sigh of relief. But suddenly, right after Pride 2017, the posters for a missing Caucasian man showed up and I thought, “It’s happening again.” I also thought Andrew Kinsman’s ethnicity would intensify police interest in the case, as it did.

DS: And then came the arrest of Bruce McArthur?

JR: Yes, but this was after I had finished my book – which, I should say, is not the same story as the real-life killings.

DS: If I may say so, you managed to take it in an interesting direction by setting the story at the heart of Toronto’s fictional sex industry.

JR: Not entirely fictional – there is a sex industry. You can go out and see sex shows. Human trafficking does occur here. Some of those exploited are illegal immigrants, as portrayed in my book. All this is pretty shocking for a city that was long known as “Toronto the Good.” But perhaps not for you.

DS: You mentioned not starting out to be a mystery writer, but you must have had antecedents. What writers inspired you?

JR: The first gay mystery I read was The Tallulah Bankhead Murder Mystery by George Baxt. It’s no coincidence that my first mystery was a comedy, The P-Town Murders.

DS: The one where you posed on the cover as a corpse.

JR: For the first American edition. I’m always surprised how few people caught the joke.

DS: Too subtle.

JR: Yes, okay. Point taken. After that I came across Michael Nava’s Henry Rios books. They showed me you could create a mystery with heart. Then someone recommended Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter books. Both of these writers reflected gay life as I knew it, yet both are creators of high quality mysteries of any sexuality.

DS Do they have to have literary style?

JR: Not necessarily, but they have to have something. I love Agatha Christie’s books for two reasons. The first is that they are unbeatably clever. The second is that they offer some sense that there is a moral order that must not be transgressed. There’s not much of a literary style to her books. They’re mostly well-told tales written in plain prose.

DS: Thanks for taking the time for coffee and a chat. I understand you’re in the midst of a recording marathon?

JR: Not quite a marathon, but it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for quite a long time. Years, in fact, though I suspect it won’t pan out as a second career. If you want to hear the results, I’ve posted some of the songs on my website, jeffreyround.com. Just click the tab under MUSIC.

DS: I’ll do that.

JR: Let’s do this again, Dan. And thanks for your time. I understand you're in the midst of a new adventure.

DS: You've heard about the incident at Lion's Head?

JR: Indeed, I have. I wish you luck with it. I look forward to seeing it in print about a year from now. (Editor: Watch for the seventh book in the Dan Sharp series, Lion’s Head Revisited, in January 2020.)


Lambda-winning author Jeffrey Round writes the gritty Dan Sharp mystery series and the comic Bradford Fairfax series. His first two novels were listed on AfterElton’s 50 Best Gay Books. His newest book, Shadow Puppet, is an imagined account of eight serial killings that rocked Toronto's gay community from 2010-2017.

PI Dan Sharp is a literary character whose adventures have been profiled in six mysteries to date. They take place in Toronto, for the most part. Dan lives in Leslieville, not far from his creator, with his son Kedrick and dog Ralph.

Jeffrey Round

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
Jeffrey Round photo

Jeffrey Round

Jeffrey Round is the author of numerous books, including the Lambda Award–winning Dan Sharp mystery series and the stand-alone mystery Endgame. He lives in Toronto.