Solving Crime the Hard Way

J. R. LindermuthA retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in central Pennsylvania. Since his retirement he has served as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with research and genealogy. He is the author of 12 novels. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers, EPIC and the Short Mystery Society.

Sooner Than Gold, the second in my Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman series, is coming in March from Wild Oaks, the Western imprint of Oak Tree Press.

Technically, it’s not a Western in terms of setting, since it takes place in Pennsylvania in 1898. Tilghman is the third of his family to hold the job of sheriff in a rural community in these novels set in the 1890s. Those of us who choose to set our crime stories in the past give ourselves the additional problem of getting the history right.

History too often gets a bad rap. Students dismiss it as boring. Politicians and others with a biased agenda abuse its factuality. But the truth is out there and available to any willing to take the time to search. Since that involves time and effort, history is either ignored or perverted.

I’m one of those weird birds who actually enjoy research. It was a necessary part of my past life as a newspaper reporter and editor. Since I still write a weekly newspaper column on local history and serve as librarian of my county historical society, it remains a part of my routine.

Fallen from GraceDelving into old newspapers lends credence to my setting. Getting the investigative part right takes a little more work than depicting the daily life of my characters, their attire, social pursuits, dining and other activity.

Police like Tilghman in the 19th century lacked the forensic advantages available to their modern counterparts.

For instance, at one point Syl remarks that though the British had developed a fingerprinting system in 1893 it hadn’t come into wide use in the states and particularly not in small towns like his. In the previous novel, Fallen From Grace, he’d lauded the telegraph as a great boon to law enforcement.

In the 1890s a police officer had to rely on his experience, instincts and knowledge of people rather than the scientific advances we tend to take for granted. Police still rely to a great extent of those earlier virtues, though the forensic elements sometimes make the job just a little easier.