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Deal: Elisabeth de Mariaffi goes from Giller to thriller

Elisabeth de Mariaffi (photo: Ayelet Tsabari)

Elisabeth de Mariaffi (photo: Ayelet Tsabari)

For Elisabeth de Mariaffi, reading murder mysteries is something of a guilty pleasure. That’s one reason why her debut novel was so enjoyable to write.

Bookish types know de Mariaffi as a writer of short fiction (her collection, How to Get Along with Women, was longlisted for last year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize) and as publicist for Breakwater Books in St. John’s. However, she is poised for much wider renown with the release of The Devil You Know, described as a “literary thriller,” in January 2015.

HarperCollins Canada imprint Patrick Crean Editions has acquired Canadian rights to the title, with Touchstone editorial director Sally Kim having picked up remaining world rights in a six-figure deal. (Both deals were arranged by the Transatlantic Agency’s Samantha Haywood.)

Set in 1990s Toronto against the backdrop of the capture and arrest of Scarborough rapist Paul Bernardo, The Devil You Know follows a rookie reporter assigned to cover the case. The experience triggers the protagonist’s childhood memories of the disappearance and murder of her best friend.

Kim, who has worked with blockbuster authors Gillian Flynn and Lisa Unger, believes the novel will have wide appeal for fans of suspense novels and book critics alike. Although the story could take place in any city, she says, the “strong sense of time and place” will draw in readers. “Not only has [de Mariaffi] written a story that has commercial potential – in that it just moves like a shot – but it’s beautifully written,” she says.

Kim adds that the Giller nomination caught her attention, but she feels as though de Mariaffi is headed for bigger things. “In many ways I think this is really her debut,” she says. “It’s almost like she’s ready for prime time.”

The novel’s historical framework is based on de Mariaffi’s own memories of growing up in Toronto. “It was really monumental for those of us who actually grew up and came of age through the Scarborough rapes,” she says.

De Mariaffi, whose first book was published by Halifax’s Invisible Publishing, considers herself a champion of indie presses, but her experience working with a bigger house has been exciting so far. “Everything about this book has been a sort of intense ride – writing it, selling it, editing it,” she says. “I’ve been very engaged at every stage.”

This story appeared in the June 2014 print edition.