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Photos: Boy in window (Cavan Images/Getty Images); Nicole Lundrigan (Anna Lena Seemann); An Unthinkable Thing

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An Unthinkable Thing

In a Q&A about her new crime novel, Canadian author Nicole Lundrigan explains how she switched from anthropology to writing and why she's fascinated by people who do evil things / BY Rosemary Counter / April 14th, 2022

Newfoundlander-turned-Torontonian Nicole Lundrigan is an anthropology grad, would-be doctor, magazine writer, busy mom and crime novelist. Now watch all those seemingly unrelated things come together with the release of her eighth book, An Unthinkable Thing, about 11-year-old Tommie Ware, who is accused of murdering a wealthy, seemingly perfect family. (Obviously, they’re not.) Zoomer called Lundrigan in Toronto to discuss her roundabout route to book writing, digging up bones, the appeal of true crime and why fiction is even better sometimes.

Rosemary Counter: Congrats on the new book! After eight novels, are you excited? Nervous? Is this old hat?

Nicole Lundrigan: I like to think it’s a little less so every time, but I still get nervous every time. If I’m completely honest, sometimes I get busy and forget the book launch. With the pandemic, there are no fancy parties or anything, so that’s good.

RC: Most writers live for the book launch! But then again, you kind of fell into writing.

Nicole Lundrigan


NL: I studied a lot of different things, yes. I had a professor once who had us all write our future plans, and mine were all over the map: A medical doctor, a mom with a family, a published author and traveller of the world. He called me “an academic playgirl.”

RC: Did you like that or did you punch him?

NL: I did not like that, even though it was a bit correct, as I was interested in so many different things. But I found it very offensive and upsetting at the time. He didn’t mean it as a compliment. It was his way of saying I didn’t belong in his class because I was so unfocused. When I look back though, it was true. I am interested in many different areas, but that actually helps me a lot with my writing.

RC: I hope he reads this and feels badly. As if having lots of interests is possibly a bad thing! Tell me about your interest in … bones.

NL: My first degree was biology and psychology, but then I ended up in osteology, because I had another professor and she was so interested in bones that it became infectious. Before I knew it, I was digging up bones beneath the Little Dutch Church in Halifax. They wanted to reinforce the floorboards, but when they started, they broke open a series of crypts, so we were brought in to try to identify the bodies. Sometimes we had to actually shimmy underneath the church on our stomachs to reach the mass burial site.

RC: Thanks for the nightmares!

NL: It was a great summer, actually. My daughter was born not long after that, which was when my career – if I wanted to keep having one – had to change again. I took stock for a while and decided maybe I could do some writing. I did some magazine writing, some essays, and then I read [Alice Sebold’s] The Lovely Bones and thought that maybe I could write something like that. Something with darker material, but breezily readable.

RC: Well, you do love bones, so it makes sense. Was a novel as it easy as it sounds?

NL: Oh no, they never are. I’ve learned something every time I write a book, and every time I start over with that lesson in mind, but there’s always something. I find writing very difficult and emotionally draining. This one in particular had a lot of plotting, interspersed with trial transcripts and newspaper clippings, so when and how to reveal information ­– and from whose perspective you get it – was very tricky.


nicole lundrigan
Nicole Lundrigan, who was born in Newfoundland, has a graduate degree in anthropology, specializing in old bones. Photo: AnnaLena Seemann


RC: Often the perspective is that of a child. Why did you make that choice?

NL: I’ve actually done this a few times before, and it’s because there’s a certain innocence and truthfulness you can get through a young person’s eyes. They’re not jaded; they’re just telling it like it is. They don’t have an adult’s emotions or biases. I also told the story in the 1950s, because I’m more comfortable working in a period without all this technology, not to mention modern forensics.

RC: It was a lot easier to get away with murder then, I’m sure.

NL: Yes, and at the same time, people think of the 50s as this perfect time of wholesome families. I’m always fascinated with what’s happening beneath a perfect veneer. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to dark material, to be honest. Not so much what happened, but why? I want to know why people can possibly do such terrible things. Are they born with morality missing? Is it something they’ve experienced? It’s just fascinating.

RC: I totally get it. My grade two teacher called my mom to report how closely I was following the Paul Bernardo trial.

NL: Everyone was! What did she say?

RC: Just something like, “Oh yes, she loves serial killers.”

NL: “…And thank you for calling!” I’m glad you get it. I used to steal my mother’s true crime books when I was 12 or 13 to read about Ted Bundy. I remember a great book about a surgeon who killed his family, and another about a girl named Cinnamon whose father convinced her to murder her stepmother. I think it was called If You Really Loved Me.

RC: Found it! And popped it right into my Amazon cart.

NL: It’s a great one. Some of these stories just stick with you forever. That’s what I want my books to do, even though they’re fiction. It’s been a really rough few years, so I think people are right now very interested in crime books that aren’t actually true. A little break from the real stuff. Although I do still love a really good true crime documentary.








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