I just plain love speculative history. That’s the stuff that some folks believe in absolutely and others claim is hogwash. I always figure there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere.
Now don’t get me wrong. When I’m writing historical novels, I’m as true to “the facts” as I can manage. But I am writing fiction. And when I’m writing contemporary fiction, as in the mysteries I pen as Kaitlyn Dunnett, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game.
One particular bit of speculative history that has fascinated me for decades is the story that a Scot sailing for Norway discovered America about a hundred years before Columbus made his famous trip in 1492. This Scot, Henry Sinclair by name, is said to have spent some time in Nova Scotia and then sailed south along the New England coast before returning to Scotland. In particular, he’s supposed to have visited Westford, Massachusetts, lost one of his knights there, and left behind a memorial “punched” into a ledge. There’s a lot of disagreement about this. If you want all the details, you can read a recent book by David Goudsward titled The Westford Knight and Henry SInclair. He does a great job of summarizing all the theories, some of them pretty wild, and presenting a cogent case for an actual voyage in 1387. An earlier book by Frederick Pohl (not the science fiction writer) suggested a slightly later date. His map is below.
What does all this have to do with crime writing? Well, for one thing, I’ve now used bits and pieces of the story in all three of my mystery series. For my historical mysteries, written as Kathy Lynn Emerson, I extrapolated a colony sent by Sinclair in the years after his voyage and used it in both Face Down Across the Western Sea and Lethal Legend (in my Diana Spaulding series). It’s a “forgotten” colony. That’s why you’ve never heard of it. Well, hey, I’ll bet most of you never heard of Henry Sinclair before, either! This forgotten fictional colony is located on a fictional island in the real Penobscot Bay. Makes sense to me.
Anyway, given that Henry Sinclair was a Scot, how could I not use parts of the story in my Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage series? So, in the entry that will be available tomorrow, Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides, I have a medieval Scottish conclave taking place as part of the annual highland games. Part of the entertainment is supposed to be a reenactment of a battle between Sinclair’s men and native Americans. Did it ever happen? Who knows? But one of Sinclair’s men did end up dying, so they say, in Westford, Massachusetts. And since anything to do with the question of who discovered American gets folks riled up, this meant that I could have demonstrators planning to picket the event.
And then, of course, there’s a murder . . . with a hand and a half broadsword just like the one that’s supposedly punched into that rock in Westford.
Mysteries from the distant past may never be solved, but you will find out who dunnit in this mystery novel. Liss would like to stay out of the investigation. She’s planning her wedding, and that’s enough to worry about, but when it looks as if her father may be arrested for the crime, she has no choice but to get involved.
As promised last time I posted and in our group post, I’m offering one lucky reader a free autographed hardcover copy of Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides. Just comment on this post or on the Liss MacCrimmon series in general, and you’ll be entered in a drawing that will take place at 5PM Maine time on Wednesday, August 1st. You’ll hear from me that evening if you win.