Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: crime novel

Author prepares culinary journey through time in debut novel

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Guest writer

In her debut work, Melodie Winawer created an historical novel, mystery and love story that transports readers—and her protagonist, neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato, to fourteenth century Tuscany.  The recipient of a Publishers Weekly starred review, Winawer explains here the variety of early Italian food (and painstaking research) that went into her novel.

Three years into writing The Scribe of Siena, I started to get really hungry.  I’d been spending a lot of time with The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy,  and many of the dishes described there had found their way into the book. I wrote about the food but I hadn’t tasted it, and certainly hadn’t tried to cook it either.  Something essential was missing.

Food is a bridge to understanding the past. It goes straight to the visceral—literally.  To make that sensory connection come alive for myself and for the story, I needed to live it, not just write about it.  Beatrice, my protagonist, contemplates a similar choice when she is forced to choose between medieval and modern life. Read about it or live it? For me, there was an obvious route to living the past: making dinner.

I planned the menu for a month. I sourced ingredients at specialty food stores and online outlets that ship overseas, so not precisely an authentic medieval experience. The spice trade in the 14th century doesn’t compare to Amazon Prime.

I had to test drive a few techniques including making almond milk, an essential medieval Italian ingredient.   Fresh almond milk has no relationship to the carton-packaged liquid at health food stores, and it took me six pounds of raw almonds and two days.

First the almonds had to be blanched in a huge pot of boiling water. (Imagine doing that with only a fireplace and a pot hanging over it).  I dropped a load of nuts in, splashing and scalding myself in the process. Then—uh oh—remove all the almonds rapidly after three minutes. SERIOUSLY? Accomplished, but barely.  Then the next step: “When cool enough to handle, remove skins from almonds.”

Ever tried to make almond milk? People did in medieval Siena. So did the author.

This translated into pinching hundreds of almonds between my fingers until the nuts slipped out of their skins. At first it was awkward; many shot suddenly across the room. Then the rhythm set in.

The steam wafted from the cooling nuts, the sun slanted through the kitchen windows, and I started to feel the long stretch of centuries I’d dropped into.  Hours later I had to soak the nuts, then grind them. (Imagine this without a blender.)  Then I had a milky slurry of  almonds and water to push through a strainer. 

At this point I realized my strainer was seriously inadequate, and I ordered a same-day delivery, heavy duty version on line—a luxury I didn’t share with my medieval predecessors.  But they would probably have started with a better strainer. Continue Reading →

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Author creates a good fracking mystery; here’s how she dug up the story

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By Sherry Knowlton

Topical issues that affect real people are a perfect foundation upon which to construct a suspense novel. And you can’t get much more topical than fracking mixed with government and corporate corruption.  The research I did into fracking uncovered environmental nightmares and much more. That’s why I chose it as the backdrop for my new Alexa Williams novel, Dead of Spring. 

I’ve long considered myself an environmentalist, so I’ve followed the evolution of fracking quite closely, both here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  In my day job, I interact a lot with Pennsylvania state government. That’s given me a front row seat to the contentious debate about whether the Commonwealth should tax fracking companies.  I’ve been concerned that the negative impact of fracking on people and the environment has been overshadowed by the drive for energy independence and economic growth.  That’s what I wanted to explore in Dead of Spring – in a suspense story context.

But what exactly is fracking?  It’s the commonly used term for a natural gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing.  This process is unique in that the gas wells are drilled, first vertically, and then at a 90-degree angle that can extend as much as a mile both down into the earth and parallel to the surface.  The process has opened up huge swaths of geologic formations known as shale to gas drilling.  In Pennsylvania, the region that is being fracked is known as the Marcellus Shale. 

Fracking has its pros and cons.  It has opened up new reserves of natural gas, lowering energy costs and helping reduce the US reliance on foreign oil. And advocates argue that natural gas is cleaner burning than coal and other fossil fuels.  But the drilling process uses a slurry of toxic chemicals, releases methane into the air and can degrade water supplies. The injection of the fracking waste back into the ground has caused earthquakes.  Oklahoma’s dramatic increase in earthquake activity is well-publicized. Maryland and New York have banned new fracking activity.  But, other states have welcomed fracking’s economic boost. Needless to say, fracking is a controversial issue. 

One of my most useful bits of research came when I visited a landowner in northern Pennsylvania who had leased his land to an energy company for fracking.  He leased in the early days of fracking and was unaware of the problems he might encounter.  He shared his experience by showing me his photographs of the process that transformed his property. A beautiful woodland that step by step by step turned into an acre of gravel and machinery.  Pristine drinking water that now requires constant filtering just for showers and bathing. Battles with the energy company about compensation for various problems. Although I did considerable additional research, that visit was most enlightening.  Continue Reading →

Could you disappear?

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By Lori L. Robinett
First of two parts

Hunted, a current TV show, takes regular people and sends them on the run, hunted by professionals. Think how difficult that would be.  Even those in witness protection are sometimes found. But what if you had to hide? Imagine, you witness a murder and the bad guys know you’ve seen their faces, or you’re wrongly accused of a horrible crime.  Perhaps the authorities have confused you with a terrorist who shares your name or, like the main character in my new book, Fatal Obsession, you are pregnant and your unborn child is the subject of an experiment that holds the key to curing cancer, and a rich, powerful man is determined to harvest that research.  Could you disappear?

Consider all the interactions you have with individuals, how many contacts you have, the fingerprints you leave everywhere you go—virtual and real. And consider the sacrifices you would have to make to truly disappear. Could you do it?  The better question is, how?

Cash – Surviving requires money, and this means cash. No more credit cards, no more ATMs, no more PayPal. If you’re like most people, you might have a small amount of cash on you, but how much do you truly have available? If you had to run right now, you could hit an ATM as soon as you leave home and withdraw as much as possible, but most banks limit how much you can withdraw in a day—and you don’t have the luxury of waiting around to withdraw more tomorrow.

By going to the ATM, you’re leaving 2 trails – a digital trail of the withdrawal, plus a visual trail because there is now camera footage of you at the ATM (so the authorities now know what you look like). 

So, what else can you do? Grab things before you bug out that can be converted to cash, like jewelry, watches, cameras and small electronics. Think about things that can be sold for cash at a pawn shop. You’ll be leaving another trail there, because pawn shops keep records, so you want to pawn these things as quickly as possible, as close to home as possible, so you don’t tell your hunters which direction you’re going.

Social media –  Delete all your social media accounts and your email accounts. Delete absolutely everything. Destroy any hard drives that you leave behind. Bear in mind, deleting online accounts doesn’t actually get rid of anything. Once something is on the Net, it’s there forever. That said, you don’t want to make it easy for your hunters or have anything to show up on social media that allows someone else to tag you and thus expose you. Continue Reading →

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