Why I Write Historical Mysteries by Rose Johnson

A common question people ask. Why? I’m a scientist working in a high tech field. Many folks wonder why I’m not writing techno-thrillers. Easy answer. I would get bogged down in the technical details. So, instead, I write historical mysteries. I have my reasons. They include:

1) I'm fascinated with the period of 1900 to 1920. The world changed in so many different ways. The automobile, airplane, gramophone, electrification, Bolshevik revolution, suffragettes, natural disasters (Galveston hurricane, San Francisco earthquake), man made disasters (Titanic and others), WW1 and the use of trench and chemical warfare, mass fires (Great Atlanta fire, Shirtwaist factory fire), and influenza pandemic. They can all become compelling backdrops or even plot points for a mystery.

2) My story will never become dated because there already is a date associated with it. Contemporary mysteries written in the 1990s, focused on the latest technology as part of the plot become outdated as technology moves on. Hacking in the 2000’s and hacking today where even our microwave ovens can spy on us, can make a story boring if the soon-to-be-outdated technology is pivotal to the plot.

3) I can explore contemporary issues and crimes by placing them in a historical setting. How would my characters of that time respond? This is the part I like. How does someone from 1917 deal with an event as catastrophic as 9/11? Child abductions (Polly Klaas, Elizabeth Smart). Cult leaders (Jim Jones, David Koresch, Charles Manson). The possibilities are endless and the conclusions may be different than today. Or not. I write my characters. They dictate the plot.

My recently published historical mystery, “Enemy Fire”, takes place in 1917 Atlanta. The climax involves the Great Atlanta Fire. It was catastrophic and destroyed 300 acres of the city. In 1917, many Americans were concerned about entering WW1. Fear was rampant about German spies that may be in the US. Suspicion of Germans, in general, abounded. German names on hotels and streets changed. Statues of famous Germans who helped the US in past wars removed because they were German. People of German ancestry or were immigrants pressured to take loyalty oaths. The dachshund became the most unpopular dog in America. I made fear of German spies the driver in my story.

'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' I’m sure you heard that quote. Are we repeating the past? The Confederate flag and any symbols of the Confederacy are seeing the same animosity after the horrific African-American church killings in Charleston. At least there wasn’t a dog mascot for the Confederacy or it may become the least popular breed today. So, even though my story may be historical, some elements of human nature never change.

Writing historical mysteries allows me the freedom to create a story that pulls personalities, situations, and events from any time. I deposit the mix into the early 20th century, stir in an event of the time, and weave a story that I want my readers to consider page-turning. All of this without having to rely on an I-phone, Google, Facebook, Twitter, DNA analysis, instant fingerprint databases, Alexa and Echo, my spying microwave and whatever else high tech is out there to solve a mystery

Rose Johnson


This is a great post! Hope many of you will read it.
Debra Young said…
Loved this post!

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