Research is important to my mysteries because I bring a historical background to the novel. The mystery takes place in modern day but the catalyst for the mystery is always in America’s past. The history has to be as accurate as possible to make it real for the reader with knowledge of the history.
In the case dealing with Abraham Lincoln’s tomb, Lincoln’s Hand, I visited Lincoln’s hometown in Springfield, Illinois. I had been there before and taken some of the tours through the tomb and the historical part of Springfield, but coming to town with a book in mind, I looked at the surroundings with a different eye.
I took notes on a small tape recorder as I was driving around and transcribed them when I got back to my hotel. I looked not only at the historical sites, but also at the current landscape knowing that different scenes in my book would be placed around town. I didn’t know where some scenes would take place until I had spent a few days looking around.
Other locations appear in the book. One is the fabulous historical courthouse in the town of Lincoln 35 miles to the north of Springfield. I stumbled upon it driving around. I was not aware of the town or its history. However, once I saw the courthouse, I knew I had to make it part of the story.
Library work also came in handy. At the Springfield Municipal Library, I found a great photograph reprinted in a 1967 newspaper of those who viewed Lincoln’s body during the 1901 reburial. The picture not only made it into the novel as a key clue to the mystery, I carry copies of the picture with me and show it off at my talks on the book.
Cocos Island stirred other imaginings. The 1941 Charlie Chan movie, Dead Men Tell, starring Sidney Toler, dealing with four pieces of a treasure map and the ghost of a dead pirate, takes place on a treasure cruise headed for Cocos Island.
Speaking of movies, Victor McLaglen starred in a little known movie that got me started on the Zane Rigby series. McLaglen, an Oscar winner for Best Actor, played a role in the movie, The Abductors. It was The Abductors that made me aware of the real-life story of the Lincoln grave-robbing attempt.
I saw the old movie on late night TV when I was young. I was shocked at the outrageous idea of trying to steal President Lincoln's body. I was more amazed to learn that the story was true! The thought stuck with me and I realized it could make part of an intriguing mystery adventure.
I visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. There I was able to read dispatches to and from the president when he took his trips on the USS Houston to Cocos Island.
One message from the president read: “Don't send dispatches part in plain language, part in code. Use one or the other.” Pretty sound advice.
The presidential log described Cocos as a conical mountain top 15 x 3 miles, lots of vegetation and cliffs, rocky coast line, the island's geographic isolation combined with the many legends of pirates and treasure hunters stir the visitor's imagination.
Hmm … Stir the imagination about using treasure on the island in a story – exactly what I did.
TALES FROM THE WRITING ROAD
Since Zane Rigby is an FBI agent I jumped at the chance to attend the Los Angeles FBI Citizens Academy to learn more about how the Bureau works.
New adventures await on the Writing Road. I hope you enjoy the tales Zane Rigby and I have put together for you.