Posted on 08/08/2018 at 11:16 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
It’s not surprising to see that authors have drawn on their backgrounds to shape their work, in some way.
And fortunately for her books, historical-mystery writer Susan Grossey’s background offers no shortage of interesting experiences.
Grossey was born in Belgium, grew up in Singapore, and attended college in the United Kingdom, where she currently resides.
That well-traveled background provided the cultural and geographical knowledge necessary for the star of her series, Constable Sam Plank, to visit such locales as Gibraltar and Cadiz.
And her day job of a quarter-century — an anti-money laundering consultant — lends itself beautifully to the subject of Sam’s investigations: financial crimes in Regency-era London.
Grossey, who has also written several nonfiction books about financial crime in addition to her novels, gave us a peek into her decidedly multifaceted world recently.
SADYE: When and how did you decide you’d like to write fiction?
SUSAN: As a bookworm of a child and a graduate in English, it was always just a matter of time before I had a go at fiction.
I was nervous to begin with, as I have never thought of myself as having much imagination, but historical fiction provides a perfect “skeleton” — you have the historical facts to which you must adhere, and then you can imagine in the gaps between them.
That’s my credo with my Sam Plank novels: If we know something to be historically accurate I must stick to it (however inconvenient it may be for my plot!), but if we don’t know, I’m free to make it up.
SADYE: What is it like to work as an anti-money laundering consultant?
SUSAN: I started out purely because I found the subject fascinating and had gone to some AML training which was particularly dull, and thought that I — with my teaching background — could make it more engaging.
And then I was hooked: It’s a crime that keeps growing, and of course it’s the most important crime in the world because it enables almost all the other crimes (people wouldn’t do crimes to make money if they couldn’t launder that money).
I’m not a very brave person physically, so I would be hopeless in the police, but I see this as my contribution to the fight against crime.
SADYE: Any amusing stories that you’re at liberty to share?
SUSAN: You do hear all sorts, such as the man who buried stolen gold in his back garden and now claims that it is legitimately his and he wants the police to give it back.
Even if they do, it won’t help him much: he’s currently serving 660 years in prison for (you guessed it) money laundering.
And I did once attend a financial crime conference where a colleague left his laptop — containing many years’ worth of AML training materials and information — on the podium during lunch, and CCTV showed it being stolen by a rather sinister-looking delegate whom no one could remember registering …
SADYE: Your job as an AML consultant has helped you with your writing. Has the reverse been true?
SUSAN: I think the truth is that my fiction-writing has given me a longer view of the world.
In what sometimes seems like an ever-accelerating world, it is comforting to know that things actually don’t change that much: In a century from now, someone like Sam — albeit with more sophisticated policing methods at his disposal — will be investigating financial crimes with victims like me.
And I was always terrified at the thought of retiring from the AML work; I’m fifty-two now, and whenever my husband talked of retirement, I closed my ears because I couldn’t imagine what else I could possibly do.
And now I know: My ideal future working life (if I remain physically and mentally fit) will be split between the AML day job and the historical writing “hobby.”
It’s given me a new enthusiasm for both sides of my life.
SADYE: What’s your favorite part about tweeting as Sam Plank?
SUSAN: I used to tweet in my professional life as well, until someone commented that very few of the people for whom I work — in banks, law firms and the like — are permitted to look at Twitter in the office!
So now I reserve my tweeting for Constable Plank, and I try hard not to be too “hard sell” about it.
If I learn something new about Sam’s era (Regency London), I like to tweet about it to share the knowledge.
And I would be fibbing if I said that I didn’t enjoy it when someone tweets something complimentary about Sam and his adventures!
SADYE: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned while researching Regency-era financial crimes?
SUSAN: I think the most shocking thing I learned was how poorly people were represented in court in terms of a defense as we would recognize — and expect! — it today.
If you were accused of a crime and put on trial in Sam’s day (that’s London in the 1820s), the prosecution would rule the roost: The prosecution lawyer would state the case against you, bring his witnesses and summarize it all for the jury.
Your defense lawyer (if you had one at all — only about a third of trials bothered with them) was allowed only to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.
No defense witnesses could be called (except after the verdict, when they might be permitted to speak in mitigation of your sentence) and the defense lawyer could not sum up for the jury.
It’s no wonder there were so many guilty verdicts and so many speedy trials — twenty minutes for a murder trial was very much the norm.
And what I have found least surprising is how little we — humans — have changed.
We are still credulous, easily fooled, unwilling to admit when we don’t understand something, and greedy — all of which makes us ripe victims for financial criminals.
In Sam’s day, the financial innovations were things like shares and paper banknotes; today it’s virtual currencies and online banking.
The methods have changed, but the crimes still succeed because we haven’t changed!
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Categories: Author Interview