Plenty of new history mystery books scream out to be written. For instance, although many books about the Titanic have analyzed known facts, other mysteries remain open for probing and speculation by historical fiction writers. Beyond the vain promotion of Titanic as an unsinkable vessel, many questions still exist over why this cutting-edge cruise ship lacked enough lifeboats to handle passengers and crew, violating common safety.
Or, take the inner workings of the mind of a tyrant like King Henry VIII. A biographical mystery still lurks in the wings on why a young prince, trained to design ship harbors and to be the Crown’s liaison to the Church in Rome, became a religious rebel when forced to assume the English throne.
The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple adapts the historical fiction mystery style to1969-70. Within each new location, the lead character Ímagine finds unexpected mysteries grounded in real history. For example, although traveling on a fictionalized version of The Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland, she learns the real story of Lockie MacDougall, the first railroad wind expert. Ima also solves the disappearance of a passenger named Bronco Billy who was a real cowboy star in an early film called The Great Train Robbery, 1903.
Injecting mystery into history and adding imagination to fact, The Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia has shades of the RMS Titanic and The Perfect Storm. This Imasode has character biographies which add authentic flavor to the historical fiction: Captain Cornflower descends from a Loyalist family that moved to Canada during the Revolutionary War; Dr. Raymond Larson has Viking and Innu ancestors; Chief Engineer Zaragoza has Basque relatives who fished the Cabot Strait during the1500s.
As a teacher on sabbatical, Ima enjoys connecting events and people. She slushes along in a mixture of fact and fiction that assures her of a picaresque with jaw-dropping adventure. She enters the 1969-70 world and sees both serious and frivolous changes. She becomes concerned over a pickpocket from Atlanta; competitive actors on Broadway; drug-high hippies at Woodstock; sewer constuctors in New York; moon-high astronauts; a Black prisoner in Georgia; an AWOL horse trainer; musicians in Mo-Town: thugs in labor fights; doctors in heart research; folks behind the Iron Curtain; fashion buffs in London.
By recording her observations into a journal, Ima plans to master the art of collecting details that form or unravel a mystery. But most of all, as an English teacher, she hopes to spice up next year’s lesson plans and help her class appreciate history through reading historical fiction. To reach those goals, she might even copy the methods of the teacher in the skit below:
TEACHER: “Please open your history books and read the next chapter about the Loyalists.”
STUDENTS: (Groaning) Do we hafta? History books are so boring…stale…dry as toast.
TEACHER: Okay. Let’s personalize history. Are there any Loyalists in your family?
STUDENTS: Sure. My folks are loyal to the kind of gas they use and…the brand of hamburgers they buy. Do those count?
TEACHER: Possibly. Ever heard of the book, Escape: Adventures of a Loyalist Family?
STUDENTS: (Perking up.) Did they make a movie of it?
TEACHER: All I know is the author injected fictional ingredients into dry…stale textbook facts and produced a winner.
STUDENTS: Like Pirates of the Caribbean added fiction to spice up Blackbeard’s story?
TEACHER: Yes, that’s how historical fiction books can help make the past more palatable.
STUDENTS: History has got to taste better if you stir the flavor of exciting fictional characters into boring textbooks.
TEACHER: Good thinking. Then if we also added mystery to the broth, we’d have a winning recipe.
STUDENTS: Hey Teach… we’re making a food…metaphor, right?
TEACHER: Right. You remembered last week’s lessons. Now, this week we want to set up a history mystery to solve. How about this one? Why would the Loyalists rather leave their colonial homes and move to Canada than fight in the American Revolution?
And so dedicated teachers love to create an appetite for literature, especially for historical fiction. The musical film Les Miserable has familiarized a whole new generation with the historical fiction book that dealt unabashedly with excesses, disappointments, and mysteries behind the French Revolution. History books and biographies are full of such stories for writers to explore and exploit, stories of victories and stories of mistakes. Once digesting the facts of an era, writers with talent carefully transform history into historical fiction and history mystery books. From those efforts, young people may derive a broader, more realistic view of events. In fact, by absorbing a mature author’s perspective, students may even extrapolate, from a fictionalized text, which historical paths to follow and which to avoid.