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Writer To Reader
Guest Post

Anna Lee Huber

July 15,  2014

How President Lincoln inspired the plot of A Grave Matter
 

Anna Lee Huber

When I was brainstorming ideas for the plot of Lady Darby Book 3, I knew I wanted to utilize the beautiful and melancholy Dryburgh Abbey near where I had set Kiera, Lady Darby’s childhood home in the Border region of Scotland. I’d been fortunate enough to visit the site in the autumn of 2010 and instantly fell in love with the crumbling ruins. However, I needed to come up with a unique twist to a crime happening there, and I found it in a somewhat unlikely source: by watching a documentary on President Abraham Lincoln.

I was surprised to learn that in 1876 there had been a plot to steal Lincoln’s corpse from its grave in Springfield, IL. Apparently, a gang of Chicago counterfeiters decided to steal Lincoln’s body and ransom it back to the governor of Illinois in exchange for $200,000 and a full pardon for their best engraver of counterfeit plates, who was locked up in prison. Luckily an informant for the Secret Service became involved with the plot and was able to tip off the authorities to the plan.

I found the entire caper to be fascinating, and a light bulb went off inside my head. In the time and place in which I’ve set my stories—1830 Scotland—body snatching was a viable, though criminal, profession, and a terrible problem for authorities and upstanding citizens. Resurrectionists, as they were called, would steal recently buried corpses and sell them to anatomy schools for the modest sum of 8-10 guineas, depending on how fresh the body was and whether it had any interesting abnormalities. But how much more could a grave robber hope to make by ransoming the body of a loved one back to their wealthy family?

Considering the predominant beliefs of the time—that a person could not rise from the dead on Judgment Day if they were not buried whole in consecrated ground—most people would be frantic to get their relative’s remains back, and willing to pay far more than a few guineas. The endeavor would also be less taxing, dangerous, and messy for the body snatchers. By 1830, the public had become wise to the ways of resurrectionists and begun to take precautions to protect the bodies of the recently deceased until they were too decomposed to be of any use to the anatomy schools. But a body long past that state, perhaps even deteriorated so far that it was no more than bones, would not be guarded. Bagging up a pile of bones from an old grave was far easier than transporting a heavy, stinking corpse under close surveillance. It seemed feasible that an intelligent body snatcher might become wise to such a ploy. After just a few successful ransoms, an entire team of resurrectionists could earn enough money to live comfortably for decades, so long as they didn’t become too greedy. And thus the plot of A Grave Matter—how apropos—was born.



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A Grave Matter
A Lady Darby Mystery, Book 3
July 1, 2014
Berkley Trade


Scotland, 1830. Following the death of her dear friend, Lady Kiera Darby is in need of a safe haven. Returning to her childhood home, Kiera hopes her beloved brother Trevor and the merriment of the Hogmanay Ball will distract her. But when a caretaker is murdered and a grave is disturbed at nearby Dryburgh Abbey, Kiera is once more thrust into the cold grasp of death.

While Kiera knows that aiding in another inquiry will only further tarnish her reputation, her knowledge of anatomy could make the difference in solving the case. But agreeing to investigate means Kiera must deal with the complicated emotions aroused in her by inquiry agent Sebastian Gage.

When Gage arrives, he reveals that the incident at the Abbey was not the first—some fiend is digging up old bones and holding them for ransom. Now Kiera and Gage must catch the grave robber and put the case to rest…before another victim winds up six feet under.

 

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