Sherlock Holmes--C.rime S.cene I.nvestigation

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Before the Acronym Became a Television Show

I’m a huge Miss Marple fan. What? What's she got to do with Sherlock Holmes, you ask? I'll tell you! She was the heroine of some of the first adult cozy mysteries I read. But even though she's one of my favorites, I have to admit that she didn’t use science like one of the very first literary sleuths ever--Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Author Conan Doyle gave his sleuth a brilliant scientific mind, and his crime scene technique was years ahead of real crime science. Take fingerprints, for example. Scotland Yard didn’t start using fingerprints until 1901. Sir Author Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes using fingerprint evidence in the Sign of Four, published in 1890. Holmes was also the first to analyze typewritten documents. In A Case of Identity, published in 1891, Holmes recognized that letters were typewritten, with no signature. He obtained a typewritten note from his suspect and analyzed the idiosyncrasies of the man’s typewriter. Case solved. The FBI only started a document section of the bureau in 1932.

If you want to learn more about the science of Sherlock Holmes and how he influenced the crime scene investigating field, there is a fascinating PBS show called How Sherlock Changed the World that you can watch for free if you're an Amazon Prime member, or you can buy the DVD.  

And here are a couple of interesting websites, if you’d like to read more about the science behind Sherlock Holmes:

Six Methods of Detection in Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes: Father of Scientific Crime and Detection

To close, sometimes, in my author-ish mind, I imagine what it would be like to talk to a fictional character. To spend time with them and follow them around. If I had to choose between Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes, I'd choose Miss Marple, despite Sherlock's abilities. I admire his intelligence, and I love to read the stories because they're well written and fascinating (and I also like Dr. Watson), but Sherlock is an unlikable guy.  Sociopathic in my opinion, which is probably how Doyle meant him to be. Miss Marple, on the other hand, is warm. She has people around her that she cares for. Both characters demonstrate a basic understanding of human nature, but her acumen came from core of warmth. His seemed to come from cynicism. Besides, I've dealt with enough sociopathic people in my life. I don't want to imagine spending time with one. 

This is just my opinion, of course. I'd love to hear what my readers have to say.  

 

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cloud Cookies

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Yes, that title is correct. These are chocolate cloud cookies with chocolate chips, thus the double chocolate.

I know I wouldn't win any food photography prizes for my picture, but you get the idea.

These cookies are great if you can't eat grains. They're very sweet, and I don't often indulge in sugary snacks, but eating a few for a periodic treat won't hurt. They're also not bad with coffee.

Ingredients:

  • The whites of two large eggs
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup raw, organic sugar
  • 1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened organic cacao powder
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

I'm hardcore organic, but you can substitute regular ingredients for any of the organic ingredients. And you can use any regular unsweetened cocoa powder in place of the cacao.

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Cover cookie sheet with silicone pad or parchment paper.
  3. With a mixer on high speed, beat together egg whites and cream of tartar in a large bowl until soft peaks form.
  4. Add sugar and vanilla, a little at a time, beating well after each addition until mixture is glossy and forms stiff peaks (and sugar is dissolved).
  5. Gently fold sifted cacao into the egg white mixture until combined.
  6. Fold in chocolate chips.
  7. Drop by heaping tablespoons on cookie sheet.
  8. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or just until dry.
  9. Cool slightly then removed from cookie sheet.
  10. Cool on wire rack.
  11. Store at room temperature.

When I stored these in a sealed plastic bag, they got a little soft. I ended up opening the top of the bag just a little bit to keep the cookies hard, which is how I preferred them.

My Latest Author News

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After a long time, I'm back in the saddle again, writing.  Without going into much detail at the moment, this is a miracle. This past summer I thought I'd end up bedridden, living in a bubble. That's not an exaggeration. The Lord led me to the answers I needed to get my health back on track. And now I'm working again. Living again! I am so grateful. (More about all of that in later posts.)

In the meantime, I have some great writing news! The first book in my new cozy mystery series will be released on January 2nd by Forget Me Not Romance. The title is An Untidy End.

In addition, I am the recipient of a contract from Barbour Books for a cozy mystery novella. This will be my eighth book with Barbour. More information about that at a later date.

Thanksgiving! White Rice and Peas

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What do white rice and peas have to do with Thanksgiving? They are two of the ten things I can eat. Yep. You read that right. I can only eat ten things. And for people like me who have immune diseases and whose food choices are severely limited, the holidays, especially Thanksgiving, can be a challenge.

(I am getting better and hope I can expand what I can eat soon. I'll write more about my health journey in future articles.)

On the surface, it seems that holidays are all about the food. My Facebook feed is full of recipes and pictures. People I know have been preparing for weeks for their Thanksgiving meals. I used to do that, too—pouring over recipes and spending hours in the kitchen making everything just right.

Having immune issues doesn't mean I can't cook. In fact, I can make anything I want, I just I can't eat it. And cooking without being able to taste it is hard. I never realized before how much I depended on taste testing things to make sure they were "just right." And if I'm totally honest, cooking a whole meal that I can't eat is difficult. Yeah, drooling. 'Nuf said. (*See note below)

So, when I woke up this Thanksgiving morning, I was (frankly) trying to get my thoughts in a right place. Self-pity tried to creep in. Poor Candice. Everyone else you know is going to enjoy stuffing today, and you can't have any, you poor, poor thing.

That got my attention. I despise self-pity. Whining and grumbling only lead to an ungrateful attitude, which doesn't please the Lord. In fact, He doesn't attend a pity party. So, I began to pray. That led to some self-examination and an archeological dig into my past.

Here's a portion of what I discovered:

When I look back on my favorite holiday meals, I don't remember the food—whether I ate bread or cornbread stuffing, pumpkin pie or apple pie, turkey or ham. What I do remember is the people I was with. For instance, when I was little we once celebrated Thanksgiving at my grandmother's in New Jersey. I remember standing next to her in the warm kitchen and feeling loved. Then there was one Thanksgiving when I hosted a bunch of college kids who were far from home. We had a blast playing games and laughing, but I can't remember a single thing I cooked. And then there was the the time I helped serve at the homeless shelter near the Christmas holiday--that'll make you think about priorities and gratefulness. . .

What does this all mean? It means (to be blunt) that stuffing my face with stuffing isn't the important thing. What matters is the stuff I'm stuffing in my brain. How I choose to think, and being grateful, no matter what. And me getting healthy again depends a great deal on having a positive mindset.

Isn't that what Thanksgiving is all about, anyway? Positive thoughts? Being thankful? Hey, I can even choose to be grateful for green peas and rice! Salted, with ghee? They're pretty good.

I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with enjoying the preparation and eating of a fabulous holiday meal. In fact, as I recover my health, I expect I'll be able to indulge more in the future. But right now, I choose to concentrate on gratefulness and all the other good things God has put in my life. That will help me get well.

In the meantime, I leave you with this:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 107:1

*And for those who wonder how my husband deals with all of this. . .he eats a lot of the things I do, which are (obviously) very basic. He's VERY supportive! Life right now would be much more difficult if he weren't. But to help make it easier for him, I often make him extra stuff to go with the basics. He also goes out to eat with friends to get his fill of the complicated stuff. 

 

Red Herrings ~ Something Fishy in Cozy Mysteries

A cozy mystery isn’t complete without the use of “red herrings.” A red herring is a false clue the author uses to send readers and the fictional sleuth in directions that don’t lead to the real villain. It is simply a tool to distract from the real culprit.

In the literal sense, no fish called a red herring exists; rather, the term refers to a fish that’s been strongly cured in brine or heavily smoked. The process makes the fish smell and turns the flesh a reddish color.

There is some debate about the etymology of the term red herring. The most common theory is that the strong smelling fish were used to train hunting dogs. The red herring would be dragged along a trail until a puppy learned to follow the scent. Later on, the trainer would drag a red herring perpendicular to the trail of the animal being hunted, and the dog would eventually learn to follow the trail of the animal. Another theory points to escaping convicts who used red herring to throw off hounds in pursuit.

No matter how the term came about, a cozy mystery wouldn’t be complete without red herrings to compel the book’s sleuth to go in directions that don’t point to the real villain. The cozy author can do this in several ways. The red herring used most often is giving other characters a motivation to kill the victim. Another technique used is to lead the sleuth astray with gossip or by planting false evidence at the scene of the crime. Sometimes the wrong victim is killed by accident—another red herring.

Cozy authors owe it to our readers to provide enough red herrings to make a story interesting. We also need to make sure all the red herrings are explained at the end of a book; for instance, if the sleuth uncovers a potential murder weapon at a possible suspect’s house, but that suspect turns out to the innocent, we need to know why the weapon was there. 

One notable example of the use of a red herring is the convict Seldon in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Sir Author Conan Doyle. The reader believes that Seldon must be involved in the murders, but he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I'd love to hear from our readers. What is your favorite red herring from a cozy mystery that you've recently read?

It's a Mystery--Baby Mabel's Death

(Please note: If this article sounds familiar, you may have read another version of the story that I posted on the Borrowed Book Blog several years ago.)

I love writing fictional mysteries--walking my sleuths through clues to a satisfying conclusion. I'm also fascinated by true-life mysteries. And when the mystery is one involving family, it’s even more fascinating.

Mabel VanArsdale

This particular mystery began almost twenty-five years ago, when my grandmother and I were going through a box of old photos. I came upon this picture of a baby (see photo), and my Grandmother said, “That was Mabel. She was born two years before me (1896) and died when she was eight months old.”

“How did she die?” I asked.

My grandmother shrugged and said, “Some sickness called phantom.”

I questioned her further, but she remembered nothing else. I had no clues to aid me in discovering what this disease or illness was that killed little Mabel. At that time, in the early 1980s, computers weren’t personal, so I had no access to anything even resembling Google.

My wonderful grandmother died a few years after that discussion. With her passing, I lost the only person who remembered little Mabel and her tragic death. I entered her into my family tree, then wrote down the few facts I knew on the back of the cardboard picture and tucked it into my genealogy notebook. But I never forgot her or my desire to find the truth.

Fast forward about ten years when I got my first computer and internet access. I tried to research the disease in the relatively new online world. I assumed the word phantom was my grandmother’s interpretation of something she’d heard as a child. Kids often hear words wrong. I used the spellings “phantom,” “fantum,” and “fantom,” but found nothing in the online lists of old diseases available at that time. Eventually I stopped looking. Mabel’s memory and her picture were once again relegated to my genealogy notebook, but she never left my mind.

Little Mabel remained there until a couple years ago when my husband and I were watching Marshall Dillon (the show that preceded Gunsmoke). I’m fascinated by the history of medicine and disease, so when Doc Adams, the grizzled doctor in the show, diagnosed a cowboy with “brain fever,” I decided to Google it. One thing led to another, as often happens with internet exploration, and I found a site that contained a long list of old-timey diseases and the modern disease equivalents.

Old-Timey Diseases and Their Modern Equivalents

After I read about brain fever, I glanced down the list to check out other diseases. That’s when I spotted Cholera Infantum. Boom! Suddenly I knew what had happened to Mabel. In all likelihood, as a youngster, my grandmother heard about Mabel’s death, and her child’s mind remembered only the last portion of the disease: fantum. Now I had a likely cause of death to put in my genealogy album, along with Mabel’s picture.

Cholera infantum was a ruthless, brutal summertime killer of babies and small children during the 1800s. Despite its name, it was not really cholera and was not caused by the water-borne bacterium called Vibrio cholerae. The symptoms, however, were similar and included hot head, cold extremities, vomiting, and diarrhea, all of which rapidly led to dehydration and death in tiny children.

The online information I found about this disease is mixed. It includes antique medical texts, which make for fascinating reading, but are lacking in the medical knowledge we have today. Some of those texts say the disease was contagious, others say it was caused by heat. One even said it was caused by hysterical mother’s milk. Can you imagine holding your dying child and having the doctor tell you it was your hysteria and breast milk that caused the disease? Included in the information I found was a present day listing in Wikipedia (which may or may not be accurate) that states that cholera infantum is one of the diseases caused by a family of bacteria called campylobacte. You can read more about this at this link. In the article, cholera infantum is specifically mentioned under "history"

I didn’t pursue detailed research about the causes of cholera infantum because the purpose of my original search was to find Mabel’s killer, and I did that. The mystery of Mabel’s death is solved. I just wish I could tell my grandmother what I found. She would have enjoyed the story of my search, and she would have been fascinated to know what I’d found, just like I was.

Does anyone else have a story like this to share about a long ago family member?

What I Love About Miss Marple



I love a good cozy mystery, and there’s nothing like a review of classic cozies to remind me why I fell in love with the genre. Like most of my fellow cozy authors, I read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and the Bobbsey Twins as a little girl. Later came Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and Patricia Wentworth, to name a few.  

When I’m asked who my favorite author is, the short answer is, I don’t have one. That’s because there are too many good authors to name just one, or even ten. But as far as cozy authors go, I think Agatha Christie is the queen.   

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks
I have a set of two books called Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks and Agatha Christie Murder in the Making. Both are by John Curran, who was given access by the Christie family to the notebooks in which Agatha Christie jotted her notes over the many years of her successful career.  (I recommend these books to anyone who is a Christie fan. They are slightly repetitious, but full of fascinating insight into Christie and her books.)

While cozy mysteries seem simple, they aren’t. They often depend on deep characterization, and, in some cozies, even a bit of caricature. (To write good caricature, the author must have a good grasp of characterization.) The twists and turns of clues have to be presented in such a way to lead to a satisfying ending. The bad guy needs to be obvious, but not obvious. Agatha Christie expresses it perfectly in her biography. “The whole point of a good detective story was that it must be somebody obvious but at the same time for some reason, you would then find that it is not obvious, that he could not possibly have done it. Thought really, of course, he had done it.”

In my cozy-in-progress, I recently changed my mind about who the bad guy is because my original wasn’t developing as I thought he should. That often happens to me as I write a book. Changing bad guys midstream used to make me feel I wasn’t a good author or not organized enough. No more! According to John Curran and the Christie notebooks, Agatha Christie didn’t always know, either. In some of her notebooks, she changed her mind about the bad guys in stories several times.

One of my favorite cozy heroines is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. She is the ultimate amateur detective. My husband and I just finished a Miss Marple marathon. We watched the PBS versions starring Joan Hickson, who is my favorite Miss Marple of all time. The shows in which she stars are some of the only ones to stay faithful to the plots as written by Christie.  

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple
Joan Hickson is perfect in the role in my opinion. In fact, in 1946, Agatha Christie wrote a letter to Joan Hickson after seeing her in a play. She said, “I hope that one day you will play my dear Miss Marple.” That didn’t happen for another 38 years. When Joan Hickson was 78 years old, she filmed the first Miss Marple for television. (Seventy-eight! Wow.)

Miss Marple made her first appearance in print in a series of six short stories published between December 927 and May 1928 in the Royal Magazine. In the first of those stories, Miss Marple is dressed completely in black and sit in her cottage in St. Mary Mead, knitting and listening and solving crimes that have baffled the police. The first full-length book that featured her was The Murder at the Vicarage. In that book, the vicar’s wife describes Miss Marple as “that terrible Miss Marple. . .the worst cat in the village.” On the other hand, the vicar describes her as “a white-haired old lady with a gentle, appealing manner.”


And I guess that is the key to a great hero or heroine in a cozy. The character is multi-faceted—seen by the other characters in the story in many different lights. And that’s what I love about Miss Marple. She can be tough, kind, catty, humorous, and even when she acts befuddled, her brain is ticking like the best clock in the world.