Behind the Books of a New Series

Saturday, December 07, 2019
Old Nantasket Books

Twenty years ago, I was dating a man who lived in Hull, Massachusetts, a small town south of Boston. I was living in New York at the time, and while most weekends he traveled down to meet me, on occasion I also went to Massachusetts to visit him.

Joshua James

The town has a fascinating history. Fort Revere, formerly Fort Independence, is a Revolutionary War military installation and historic landmark that shows how far back that history goes. Off its coast is Boston Light, the oldest lighthouse in America and still functioning as a lighthouse. Hull also had a lifesaving station, now a museum, whose commander was the famous Joshua James.

Most interesting to me was that Hull was the playground of the rich before the invention of the automobile enabled people to travel to Cape Cod for a summer weekend. You can still see one of the vacation homes where John F. Kennedy spent summers in his childhood in Hull. Referred to as the Honey Fitz Mansion, it was built by John Francis Fitzgerald, two-time mayor of Boston and JFK’s grandfather. Across the street is the children’s playhouse, which is larger than many family homes today.

Eventually, because of my relationship and the need to find a new job, I moved to the South Shore of Massachusetts, and, for one dream year, to Hull itself. I’d never lived in a small town before, certainly never in one with pre-revolutionary history, and definitely not a summer town, which every year between Memorial Day and Labor Day transformed itself into something very different from what it was in winter. I was fascinated with everything about the town. Including those years during the Gilded Age when it was a microcosm of the excess and political corruption present in more well-known locations.

When I discovered there had been a book about Hull’s history, particularly its infamous history, called “Old Nantasket,” I had to read it. I spent a long time trying to track down a copy. This was before the days of Amazon and online book shopping, so it was a more difficult task than you’d think. The book was out of print, and apparently had had a limited print run when it was published, so copies were rare. I was thrilled to finally find a copy (it might have been at someone’s yard sale), despite the cover being wrinkled and coffee-stained.

The book didn’t disappoint. It’s a folksy memoir written by a doctor who not only lived through the town’s most notorious age, but was also a part of it. I often wondered what it would be like to have lived during those times, and of course, imagined writing about them in a novel. But I wasn’t writing novels then, and my daily reminders of what Hull had once been went away and faded from my mind when I moved to Arizona.

This year, as I found myself thinking about starting a new mystery series, I began to consider writing a historical mystery. In writing the African Violet Club Mysteries, I discovered that it was becoming more difficult to kill people, particularly as far as poisons were concerned. All of Agatha Christie’s old reliables—strychnine, cyanide, arsenic—have long since become illegal to use in commercial products. The invention of the cell phone has also made plotting more difficult, since help for an amateur sleuth is only a pocket away. There are only so many times you can have the battery run down or place your sleuth in a location where there’s no cell service. Writing a mystery fifty or a hundred years in the past got rid of those problems. (Of course, it added new ones, but I’ll talk about that another time.)

That was when I thought about that whole shelf of books I had on early Massachusetts and, of course, “Old Nantasket.” I’d even managed to acquire a new copy of the 2004 reprint edition (the one on the right in the photo at the top of this blog) in the meantime. Yes! Hull and “the Old Ring” would make a perfect backdrop for a new mystery series. And that’s what I’ve been working on most of 2019.

I didn’t want to say too much about it. After all, I wasn’t sure my idea would work out until I’d written a book that used it. I also thought historical mystery would be far enough out of my wheelhouse that I should release those books under a pen name. I’m about 2,000 words away from completing the first—or second—in the series and it’s definitely working out. I finished an earlier book, which I’m thinking of as a prequel to introduce readers to this series, but might be book one. I’ll decide in the next month or two. And I’m not going to use that pen name. As I wrote the books, I noticed that despite being a new sub-genre, they’re still written in my voice. And they’re not so far from cozies as I thought they might be.

I’m really excited about this new series. I’m hoping to release the first book in February of 2020. I’ll have more news about it next month. Meanwhile, happy reading!

Photo Credits:
Books: Taken by me this morning.
Joshua James: By uncertain - U.S. Coast Guard historian's office website, Public Domain,
Postcard:By Unknown - postcard, Public Domain,

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