Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dying to Tell - The Stories Behinds The Story

December already? Ugh … the crush of the holidays, the long nights, and shortened days. Less business days to work and no less demand to produce. It’s the time of year that makes me scream for more time to write. All this and my new book, Dying to Tell, the third book in the Gumshoe Ghost mystery series, launches January 8th.

As anyone who’s read Oliver “Tuck” Tucker’s books, each novel has three elements: a traditional murder that launches the story, ala Agatha Christie style; a historical subplot that is spirited into Winchester where the stories take place; and Tuck’s continuing family saga of past lives and adventures that, with his spirit-skills, forms the nexus between past and present murders to culminate in a twisty, winding conclusion. It’s a tricky business weaving the past into the present and traversing two storylines so that they wind up on the same page. And often, it gives me a headache just trying to sort out the details and keep true to the characters. But, in the end, I think it adds some fun and adventure to a traditional murder mystery—albeit with a paranormal twist.

I travel a lot for my books and take every opportunity to talk about my writing and stories. In fact, I’ll go pretty much anywhere to find an audience. In the past year, I’ve spoken to dozens of forums including mystery conferences, book festivals, charity organizations, monster-fan conferences, and bookstores. I get a lot of great questions, but the most common question is, “Where do you get the historical subplots to your books?
Great question … and the subject of this post.

Hekmet Fahmy
In Dying to Tell, the story follows the discovery of a reclusive bank executive found murdered in his secret bank vault. Surrounding William’s fate is a treasure trove of Egyptian antiquities. Now those relics are missing. Also surrounding William are secrets that began in Cairo, Egypt, during World War II, and a Nazi Abwehr spy operation called Operation Salam. The Abwehr, or Nazi Military Intelligence, tried sneaking two German operatives, Johannes Eppler and Hans Gerd Sandstede, into Cairo to spy on the Allies in 1942. The mission carried Eppler and Sandstede across Libya and Northern Africa and into Cairo where they infiltrated the nightlight in Cairo with help from Egyptian Nationals friendly to their cause. One in particular was a famous belly dancer—and real German spy—Hekmet Fahmy, a beautiful seductress who could get Allied soldiers talking with a wiggle of her veils—a very deceptive honey trap. Eppler and Sandstede set up their operation out of a houseboat on the Nile and they worked the Cairo nightlife trying to gather intelligence. Unfortunately for Eppler and Sandstede, they were captured by the British just a few months after arriving in Cairo. Interestingly, all they really accomplished was to spend a lot of money and have a good time on the Cairo nightlife—very little if any actionable intelligence was gathered.

Shepheards Hotel, Cairo
But in Dying to Tell, I asked the question, what if there were three Abwehr spies that went into Cairo and this mysterious third spy was never captured? What if this third spy got involved in a local murder and tangled with OSS—Office of Strategic Services, the mother of the modern day CIA? And, what if OSS Operative, Oliver “Ollie” Tucker was hot on his trail? What would happen if the German spy’s misadventures were never revealed and led back to the US? How much fun and mayhem could this bring to Bear Braddock and Tuck while trying to solve the modern day murder of William Mendelson? A lot.

And so my historical subplot was devised. Tuck’s grandfather, Ollie Tucker, enters the series as a younger version of Doc, the ever-critical spirit-guide that keeps Tuck moving forward, and backward, chasing two killers—the murderer from World War II Cairo and one from present day Winchester. He’s chasing the spy who got away and someone who got away with far more than just murder. He hasn’t rested yet and won’t until revenge is served—cold.

And because I’ve always loved Egyptian archeology and its culture, I had to have a little fun with it, too. Tuck is menaced by Seth—a statue of the Egyptian God. And as Angel Tucker points out to him, “Seth is the Egyptian God of chaos and destruction—other things, too ... I think Seth was related to my dear departed husband.” And he picks up clues from the Shepheard Hotel—a real World War II Cairo landmark for the Allies to hang out, drink tea, and feel normalcy amidst war. And there is the Kit Kat West club, a new jazz joint in Winchester that brings back the nightlife like the original Kit Kat in Cairo where the beautiful seductress, Hekmet Fahmy, twirled her beads and veils and other assets. Throughout though, Tuck has to admit that other than his spirited-visions of Cairo here and there, his grasp of Egyptian history comes from watching Charlton Heston and the History Channel. Not much help in solving his latest case.

In the end, Dying to Tell continues the footprint that Tuck’s previous cases, Dying to Know and Dying for the Past, set down. Tuck’s spirit skills traverse past and present murder cases all based on real historic events—with a twist of my imagination, of course. And, in the end, the collision of history with the present has a few more twists and turns in it. Right up to the end, you’ll be counting the suspects and wondering when the next shoe will drop—and in this case, whodunit should be whodidn’tdoit.

We’ll again chat next month …

Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know and Dying for the Past, available in bookstores and e-books from Midnight Ink. His third paranormal mystery, DYING TO TELL, will be released January 2016. He is currently working on a traditional mystery and a new thriller. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.

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