Saturday, January 20, 2007

A real-life mystery...

...or, How To Distract Yourself From Your Real Job When You Should Be Working

I'm currently in the outline stage of a new tin-in novel job--creating a storyline that will (one hopes) wow the bejeesus out of the various people at the publishing house and license-holder who have to approve it, so I can go ahead with the fun part of writing the novel. Since the contract is not yet signed, I'm not going to say what the job is, but it's based on a TV show, and just to write the outline is requiring a great deal of forensics research.

On a recent trip to Tucson with my pal, writer Steve Mertz, I hit several used bookstores. At one of these I bought a copy of a book called BODY IN QUESTION, a great big hardcover full of gory photographs and descriptions of forensic investigation. Today, for the first time, I started really flipping through it.

And inside, I found four pieces of paper tucked away, presumably for safekeeping. These were a birth certificate, a GED diploma and report card, and a technical school transcript, all belonging to a young woman from Georgia. Contained on these pieces of paper is enough information to steal her identity, obtain a fraudulent credit card, and fly to Paris for lunch.

Since the book I'm working on involves criminal investigation, I couldn't just shove the papers aside and focus on the job at hand. Instead, I started "investigating." A Google search eventually led me to a listing on for a person with the same name, who attended high school in the town in which her parents lived at the time of her birth, and who went to school there at what would have been the right time, given the date on her birth certificate.

A Q&A on Classmates indicated that she no longer lives in Georgia, but in Arizona. Aha! quoth I. Now the papers turning up in Arizona makes more sense. Classmates also told me that, sometime in the intervening years, she got married, and gave her married name.

Google's telephone directory option gave me a Tucson phone number and address for her, under the married name. I called the number, but it's disconnected. My suspicion now is that she sold the book to the store because she was moving, and it's heavy.

I also checked one of those "peoplefinder" services, which promised me satisfaction for $10, but which seems to think she still lives in Georgia. So much for that.

With one dead end after another, I tried simply e-mailing her via I'm not sure that those e-mails ever reach their intended recipients--or that she still uses the same e-mail address that she did whenever she signed up. If she gets it and contacts me, well and good--I'm saving her paperwork for her. If she doesn't, I guess I'll have to assume she's replaced it by now.

It's strange to have a mystery fall in your lap while you're trying to plot out a mystery novel. But one of the joys of tie-in writing is that we get to write all sorts of different things. In the past year, I've had tie-in novels published that were straight fiction, horror, and sword & sorcery, based on TV shows, comic books, and a literary character. Now I'm working on a mystery novel and another horror novel.

And, frankly, I'd rather have a mystery fall in my lap than a ghost.


Maryelizabeth said...

Makes me wonder what's tucked into our various books that we've forgotten about...

Julie Wray Herman said...

You could mail a note to her old address (the Arizona one) First class will either forward or come back to you as a dead address. Or you could Google the parents and send it to them?

Good sleuthwork thus far!

She's lucky you bought the book.