Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Monumental Mystery

If you actually follow both of my blogs, you'll know that we recently took an awesome trip to Belgium and France, where we spent about half our time exploring World War One-related sites.  You can read all the gory details over on The Right People Travel.

Along the way, my two areas of interest merged and I started to develop a rather brilliant mystery idea.  Here goes.

A body is found (mutilated?  mysteriously dead with no markings?  just a torso?  with ink?) in an American military cemetery in France, or maybe at one of those grand American monuments.  Perhaps the body was tossed from high atop the monument, or arranged among the graves, or pieces line the path, or it was placed in a praying posture in the little chapel.  At any rate, there has been . . . a MURDER.  Of course, the body is probably discovered by a local walking his dog, or a maintenance person, early in the morning, with very French details like the person is smoking, or bringing a bottle of local wine somewhere or something.  (I'm getting a little Martin Walker/Inspector Bruno vibe here.)

Meanwhile Our Hero (probably male, about which I am, yes, conflicted) is a staffer with the American Battle Monuments Commission, and is stuck in dull talks in France during a hot August, when everything is closed and only the tourists are out.  The Yanks are considering pulling back on some of their commitments to local staffing of these places (it is expensive, no one from the States comes anymore, esp. to the WW1 sites), which of course doesn't thrill the French.  Our Hero has been sent as the "expert" on the sites to accompany the Senator (Congressperson?) at these talks.  But the pol is really just on a junket and interested in making a publicity splash, so deals in soundbites and uninformed commentary.  Our Hero privately disagrees with the idea of reducing US involvement, but it's not his show and he tunes a lot out, and tours around a bit on his own.  Until the body shows up, and there will be some connection - not sure what but of course that is the point of the whole mystery - to the site itself.

Will it be a historical connection?  German person dead, descendant of a soldier or commanding officer, killed by a vengeful French person?  You could substitute several nationalities for the killer here:  Belgian, English, American.  You could go the other way.  It could be a decades-old crime of passion.  Or maybe it will be a modern terrorist event, and the victim will be Israeli or Palestinian or a citizen from some former colonial territory of the warring powers, making a statement about how these conflicts just gave birth to modern problems.  Maybe the crime will turn out to have nothing to do with WW1 but instead reveal a human trafficking network that operates through France.  So many possibilities!

The character development piece - which as you might know is key for me - comes as the crime is investigated and the question of jurisdiction comes into play.  Has this crime taken place on French or American territory?  Who should investigate and who will get to prosecute?  Our Hero is no cop, but must work with French authorities - a smart and sympathetic but maybe a little cynical or hard to read or has-a-past French cop - because Our Hero has the expertise on the site itself which may hold the key to solving the crime.  The Frenchie isn't happy about it, but they'll sort it out.  (Note:  there will be NO ROMANCE.  I hate that in crime fiction.)  Maybe there are also some MPs who seem doltish and brutal but are really kind of cool.  Our Hero has a PhD, maybe a family at home, and doesn't stick his nose in but because he knows more about this site than anyone else, he has to be part of the investigation.  He's a good eater.  Or maybe just learning about it, and his French counterpart can't believe he knows so little about cheese.  There will be meals.

That's about as far as I got.  There could be a whole series, taking place at different monuments and cemetaries (WW2 at Normandy or the Philipines!).  But it is hard to keep them from becoming formulaic, so maybe this is a standalone.

By now you surely realize the chief benefit of this project:  much research time will have to be spent in France.  Do I have any takers as assistant?

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