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Writer To Reader
Guest Post 
December 2014

Susannah Sandlin
Author of Deadly, Calm, and Cold

In New Orleans, where I spent a big chunk of my adult life, treasure hunting is nothing unusual. Every few years, somebody decides he’s figured out the location of early 19th-century pirate Jean Lafitte’s buried cache of gold and jewels. He starts digging, and if he’s lucky, he might find an interesting piece of glass or a human jawbone.

Stuff like that happens in New Orleans.

Lafitte’s gold, which has never been proven to actually exist, pales beside some of the world’s great treasures that have been lost to history. I’ve had the opportunity to research many of them in writing The Collectors romantic suspense series, where a manipulative, amoral group of billionaires competes to find some of those lost treasures—dragging in an innocent couple as pawns. (Romance inevitably ensues, of course, because what’s more romantic than danger and blackmail?!)

In searching for the perfect priceless targets to use for the books, I go on my own treasure hunt, sniffing out things that are not only of financial value, but also historical significance.

I also seek artifacts that might actually be findable, whose disappearance was cloaked in enough questions or mysteries that their discovery, while not easy or assured, is at least within the realm of possibility. I don’t believe the Ark of the Covenant is going to pop up in a Marrakesh marketplace, for example, or that the lost treasure troves of the medieval Order of the Knights Templar will be found intact beneath the ruins of an ancient castle. (Well, maybe not.)

But maybe one portion of the Templar treasure could be found, and that became the first artifact that caught my interest. What if one of the missing documented Templar treasures—a ruby-encrusted cross that was the symbol of the knights during the period of their great crusades—had been stolen by a house servant who stowed aboard one of the ships bound for Canada along the old Viking trade routes of the North Atlantic in the early 1600s, and sank along the infamous “death coast” off Cape Breton, Nova Scotia?

There are hundreds of wrecked ships along the Cape Breton coastline that have never been excavated, in some spots several centuries’ worth of wrecks, one lying atop another. Who is to say that a relic from the Knights Templar is not down there amid the wreckage, yet to be discovered?

The ruby cross met my criteria—it would be invaluable today, not just in the monetary value of its gold and jewels, but in its historical significance as a relic of the Templars.

The next bits of lost antiquity that caught my eye were the lost crown jewels of England’s King John. “Bad King John,” as history has come to know him, is best remembered as the bad guy in the Robin Hood movies—the evil king who was so greedy that his own landed gentry forced him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215. What’s less known is the mystery surrounding John’s loss of the British crown jewels a few days before his death—ironically, in the English coastal region just to the east of Nottingham Forest.

For almost eight hundred years, historians have argued, theorized, and made suppositions about whether or not the “official” story is true. In that version, the king became ill as he traveled from Lincolnshire to Norfolk in October 1216. He took a detour to spend the night at Swineshead Abbey, near the village of the same name, while his baggage train containing the crown jewels continued on into the swampy area known as The Wash. The baggage train—horses, wagons, riders, and jewels—supposedly perished in quicksand during high tide. John died a week later, perhaps of dysentery . . . or perhaps not.

The jewels, which contained John’s scepter, coronation items, the crown jewels of his grandmother, the Empress of Germany, and some of the jewelry and gold of which he was said to be quite fond, were never found.

Would a greedy king send his greatest treasures into a dicey area and out of his sight, or would he have kept the loot with him? That’s the question still debated today as rumors that John was poisoned by a monk at Swineshead Abbey persist.

Those questions helped King John’s lost crown jewels pass my artifact litmus test. The treasure is theoretically findable—or at least parts of it. It’s estimated to be worth perhaps $100 million today in terms of its actual value, but worth even more as an important piece of British history.

Great suspense fodder, in other words.

What else has caught my imagination, perhaps to appear in future books?

* The Amber Room. In the 18th century, amber was worth more than gold, so an entire room was constructed of amber and precious jewels in Prussia and then moved to St. Petersburg. The room was allegedly destroyed by an Allied bombing raid in occupied Russia, but evidence suggests that the room was dismantled and hidden by those in Hitler’s regime. No one has seen it since, however, and its current worth is estimated at around $200 million.

* The Faberge Eggs. When the Russian Revolution resulted in the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and much of his family, the royal “goldsmith,” Peter Carl Faberge, fled Russia. The ornate bejeweled eggs he’d created for the royal family were confiscated and stored in the Kremlin, and over the years, eight of the original 52 “Imperial Eggs” have vanished. There are so many options, some even involving Howard Hughes!

Something around which to write a great suspense story, in other words!

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