Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband, who is a law professor, and her West Highland terrier, who is a law unto herself. Her Boyfriend’s Bones, the fourth book in the series, is scheduled for release in June, 2013. You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at www.jeannematthews.com.
My novels are all set in different countries and the local culture, politics, and environment play a significant part in each story. I visit the places I write about to soak up the ambience and after I return home, I continue to monitor the international news to keep up with what’s happening. But timing is everything and sometimes the horse is out of the barn (or the book is off to the printer) and things I wish I could have written into my plot occur too late.
For example, just recently a truck hauling twenty-seven tons of goat cheese burst into flames inside a road tunnel in Arctic Norway and burned for five straight days, blocking all travel by land. It seems that this brunost cheese, a Norwegian delicacy, contains thirty percent fat and a high concentration of sugar and if it gets hot enough, it’s as flammable as petrol. I set my last book, “Bonereapers,” in the Norwegian Arctic near the Doomsday Seed Vault and in order to further isolate my characters, I sent in a blizzard. Sounds trite compared to a truckload of burning brunost, doesn’t it? I can imagine the oily smoke, the wafting odor, the melting snow, and the pungent remarks my protagonist Dinah Pelerin might have made about the hidden hazards of cheese – had she but known.
And then there was the Norway Spiral, an ominous blue light that speared across the polar night. It shot from behind a mountain, stopped in mid-air, and began to spiral out into space, causing consternation for hundreds of miles around. Turns out it was caused by an out-of-control rocket booster spewing fuel into space. Dinah could have had a field day with an out-of-control rocket booster. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about the event until it was too late. The only celestial phenomenon I could dish up for Dinah in “Bonereapers” was the Northern Lights.
My first book, “Bones of Contention,” took place in Australia. I thought I had run the gamut of Down Under weirdness from the giant Boxing Croc of Humpty Doo, to the termite cathedrals of Kakadu, with an array of deadly fauna including the inland Taipan, the box jellyfish, and the funnel-web spider menacing the territory in between. But I regret not sending Dinah to a sporting event such as the national goanna-pulling competition, the beer can regatta, or the annual wife-toting race. These omissions show a serious gap in my research. Note to self: Next time read the sports page.
I also missed an opportunity to have her trek through the bush and chance upon a geometrically perfect square of wombat poop. Oh, yes. It’s true. You can’t make up s#*# like that. Nor did I know about the Yowie, a hairy creature the size of two orangutans that leapt out of an empty water tank near Alice Springs and scared the bejesus out of a party of rabbit hunters. I would love to have introduced Dinah to a Yowie, up close and personal.
“Bet Your Bones,” which was set in Hawaii, was chock-full of Pele superstitions and Native Hawaiian history and lore. But I had no idea that it is against the law to put coins in your ears. Why this seemingly childish prank made it into the statute books escapes me, but the state legislature obviously saw the need. Maybe a rogue street magician planted a coin in someone’s ear and couldn’t retrieve it, or a vending machine thief tried to hide stolen coins in his ears. It is also illegal in Hawaii to shout at a bird, although it is permissible to speak to it in a soft, reassuring voice. I would have enjoyed writing a scene in which one of my characters was arrested for annoying a bird. Note to self: Check out the local ordinances next time.
The manuscript of Dinah’s latest adventure, “Her Boyfriend’s Bones,” has been shipped to the printer. If – God forbid – a screaming meteor should crash into the Greek island of Samos today, it will be too late to disrupt her romantic holiday any worse than it had been disrupted by the time I wrote “The End.” I wouldn’t wish upon any country a screaming meteor or an inferno of goat cheese or an epidemic of coins getting stuck in people’s ears, let alone a leaping Yowie. But I’ll be disappointed if I learn about some bizarre event that would have made the story more exciting. If something eye-popping and amazing is going to happen anyway, I want it to happen while Dinah is on hand to bear witness.