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Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Civil War Army Field Surgery Kit
Gwen Mayo is passionate about blending the colorful history of her native Kentucky with her love for mystery fiction. Interesting fact: Gwen was a brakeman and railroad engineer from 1983 - 1987. Learn more about her and her books at her website and blog.

Confessions of a History Junkie

One of the definitions of a “junkie” is a person who gets an unusual amount of pleasure from or has an unusual amount of interest in something. For me, that something is history. Thanks to the Internet, I can indulge my passion any time I please. I have a list of sites longer than my arm, but as wonderful as the web can be, nothing replaces an up close look into the past. 

My spouse and I have spent many happy days looking for towns that no longer exist. Some of those towns wind up in stories or blog posts. My historical wandering brought the White House cookbook from the Lincoln administration into my possession. A trip to the Walter Reed Medical Center Museum let me get a good look at the Civil War Union Army Field Surgery Kit. That piece of history turned up in one of my Nessa Donnelly mysteries. I also spent a lovely summer researching the history of Kentucky bourbon.
Mary Todd Lincoln's Family Home 
I know history isn’t considered a sexy topic, but it can be. Lexington, Kentucky has a historic home that was once owned by Mary Todd Lincoln’s family. The same house was later Jenny Hill’s Bawdyhouse. Belle Brezing, Lexington’s most famous madam, lived there for a couple of years before buying her own house. 

Still, when I talk about my favorite pastime, I get a lot of eye-rolls. Kids who hated memorizing dates for a history test often grow up to be adults who think history is boring. Why wouldn’t they? Their only exposure to history has been a bunch of dull facts delivered by a teacher with no real interest in the subject.

History, real history, isn’t the dry facts of an event; it is a group of individual stories that narrow an event to only one outcome. History is made up of hundreds of ‘what if’ stories. For instance, would the outcome of WWII have been different if Hitler had not taken a sleeping pill before the Allies landed on Normandy’s beaches? The question opens a whole range of alternate histories. Our reality is that Hitler slept until noon, and Field Marshall Rundstedt did not get the support he requested. The history of the world may have turned on a sleeping pill.

Concealed in Ash

Former Pinkerton Agent Nessa Donnelly has nearly forgotten life before trading in her skirts for her brother's suit. She's left her impoverished past behind to become Kentucky's most prominent detective. Now a charred body discovered in the ashes of the Phoenix Hotel, and its connection to the schoolmarm who has charmed both her and Doc Haydon, threatens her house of lies.

Rival forces are threatening to pull the city apart as the murder ignites old hatreds. Klansmen attack a local police sergeant with family ties to O'Brien. The vigilante Red Strings steal O’Brien’s body from Doc Haydon’s basement and murder a policeman. The arrest of a colored boy sparks racial violence. Nessa’s investigation uncovers O’Brien’s involvement in the Red Strings and a multitude of other motives for his murder.

The lad had ample reason to murder O’Brien, but his benefactor, the quirky inventor Professor Percival Pettijohn, is certain of his innocence. Nessa is tempted to ignore his pleas until she discovers that Pettijohn's assistant is the grandson of her beloved housekeeper.

Nessa refuses to choose between protecting Mary Katherine and saving Beulah’s grandson. Instead she, Haydon, and Pettijohn put their lives on the line to find the real killer and stop the violence.

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Kath said...

Wow! Fascinating, Gwen! The history and the premise for your book!

Angela Adams said...

Gwen, come visit my city, Philadelphia! We have lots of history for you to see!!

Gwen Mayo said...

Thanks Kath. I hope you take the time to peek inside the book.

Gwen Mayo said...

Angela, You're right about the history. I would love to visit Philadelphia again. I haven't been there in years.

Carol J. Megge said...

Gwen,it's not just your intimate knowledge of history that makes your mysteries interesting, it's your fabulous use of detail that draws me to your writing. It's not just the setting, it's also the characters, each with their own individuality appropriate to the times.

Gwen Mayo said...

Thank you Carol. That means a lot to me because I admire your writing.