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Guest Blogger: Susan Van Kirk – Benjamin Franklin’s Contribution to My Mysteries

April 18, 2016 11 comments

Benjamin Franklin’s Contribution to My Mysteries by Susan Van Kirk

Thanks, Debra, for allowing me to check in with your readers today.

novella pictureI broke the string of titles this week with the launch of a novella about my detective who has a strong role in my Endurance mysteries. Oh, I know Ben Franklin is probably disappointed that I didn’t use one of his proverbs this time, but my novella is also a break in a string of full-length novels.

The first of my mystery series is called Three May Keep a Secret, and it came out from Five Star/Cengage in December, 2014. (At this point, I’m sure you’re continuing the title in your head with the rest of the proverb: “if two of them are dead.”) My main character is a retired English teacher and likes Franklin’s sayings. He was a master of borrowing proverbs from other writers and slapping his name on them, or designing his own aphorisms about human nature.

This first novel introduced the small town of Endurance and its inhabitants. Grace Kimball, recently retired teacher, finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation when she takes over a part-time newspaper job from a murdered reporter. Unfortunately, with that job comes lots of secrets from the town’s history, and one of them throws Grace right in the gun sights of a killer.

Jeff Maitlin, who recently moved to town to run the newspaper, is Grace’s “love interest,” but, frankly, he is a suspicious character himself. After he moves to town, people begin dying unexpectedly. Is he involved? Or is his mysterious past just that—something better left behind him? TJ Sweeney, local detective and Grace’s friend, is very leery of this guy. Is he carrying out Ben Franklin’s title, or is he innocent in at least two murders?

The second novel in the series, Marry in Haste, will be out in November from Five Star/Cengage. That Franklin proverb ends with “Repent at leisure.” This book is the story of two marriages, and from that title I’m sure you can figure out how happy they were. The lovely surprise is that these marriages were a century apart. One plot is from 1893, the other from the present day, and both involve a mysterious death. Domestic violence is the topic, but the plot does not use graphic violence. I was more interested in how attitudes and laws have changed over a hundred years, and how this subject affects people psychologically.

The third novel, not yet published, is called Death Takes No Bribes. This time Ben Franklin didn’t follow it up with another phrase because his proverb is self-explanatory. The high school principal, known throughout town as a good man, is found dead at the beginning of the story, and why would Death take someone who was such a role model? Soon it becomes clear that appearances do not always reflect reality.

I’ll bet Ben Franklin could say a thing or two about that.

Franklin left so many wonderful proverbs, mostly published in his Poor Richard’s Almanac(s). I have scratched my head trying to figure out how to use some of them as mystery titles. Here are a few examples:

Fish and visitors smell in three days.

If your head is wax, don’t walk in the sun.

He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.

He that composes himself is wiser than he that composes books. (What?)

Hunger is the best pickle.

So is it any wonder that when I decided recently to write a novella, I dispensed with the Benjamin Franklin titles temporarily? The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney is the first of a possible spin-off series about my detective. It just launched as an e-book on Amazon.

After solving a double homicide in the hot Midwest summer, Endurance police detective TJ Sweeney isn’t given long to rest. A construction crew has found human bones while digging a building foundation on the outskirts of town.

Sweeney’s investigation soon concludes this was a murder victim, but from many decades earlier. Readers are treated to a wonderful walk with Sweeney through the big band era and the early years of WWII. Trying to identify the remains and put a name on the killer takes the detective through a maze of dead ends and openings, twists and turns.

And then it becomes personal …

I’m starting to think about titles for the next novel. Possibly, “Love your neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge”? Grace lives in a small neighborhood on Sweetbriar Court. Hmmm. Lots of possibilities for squabbles over property lines …

So, readers, what are some of your favorite Franklin proverbs?

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susan van kirk

Susan Van Kirk is the author of a nonfiction memoir, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks.) Her Endurance mysteries are published by Five Star/Cengage and include Three May Keep a Secret and Marry in Haste (Nov. 2016). The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney is on Kindle from Amazon. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and its Guppy Chapter, and also Mystery Writers of America. While she is often visiting her children in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, she can also be found at home in a small town in the middle of Illinois. Visit her website at www.susanvankirk.com

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