Tag Archives: mystery

Sherlock Holmes & the Red-Headed League: A Guest Post by K.B. Owen

I’m so excited to welcome mystery writer, K.B. Owen, to The Happiness Project today! She is on a whirlwind blog tour promoting her newest book, Unseemly Pursuits, and I asked her to stop by Wisconsin for some midwestern hospitality, and she obliged. *curtsy*
Since she knows redheads are some of the greatest people ever, she’s sharing some tidbits of history about Sherlock Holmes and “The Red-Headed League”.
There’s also a swag-a-licious giveaway at the end of the post, so be sure to leave a comment and you could win!
The floor is yours, Madam.
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KB OwenK.B. Owen taught college English at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature. A long-time mystery lover, she drew upon her teaching experiences to create her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unseemly Pursuits is the second book of the series. The first book, Dangerous and Unseemly, was published in early 2013.

K.B. currently lives in Virginia with her husband and sons, and is busily planning the lady professor’s next adventure.

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Many fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories consider “The Red-Headed League” to be one of their favorites. The story was published in The Strand Magazine’s August 1891 issue, and later collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892).

red01Illustrated by Sidney Paget, 1891. Wikimedia Commons.

A brief synopsis:

A red-haired businessman, Jabez Wilson, consults Holmes about a curious incident. There had been an advertisement in the paper by an organization calling itself the “Red-Headed League” looking for red-headed male candidates to fill a well-paying position with light work. Wilson had won the job, and began earning a handsome salary for basically “busy” work, copying the encyclopedia during daytime hours. Since Wilson’s own shop mostly operated in the evenings, with his assistant on hand to take care of anything that came up while Wilson was gone, the red-headed man considered it a happy arrangement. But abruptly one morning, Wilson found a sign stating that the League was “dissolved.” Reluctant to let go of a good thing, Wilson comes to Holmes to solve the mystery.

Holmes and Watson are amused, and Holmes’ curiosity is piqued. He agrees to investigate.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Holmes eventually deduces that Wilson’s assistant, John Clay, has been digging through the basement wall of Wilson’s shop into the bank vault next door. Clay had thought up the “red-headed league” scheme as a way to keep Wilson away during the day while he and his cohorts did their digging. When the work was completed and they were making final preparations to break into the vault, Clay dissolved the league. Holmes, Watson, Wilson and the police wait in the bank vault for the criminals, and nab them when they come through.

red02Illustrated by Sidney Paget, 1891. Wikimedia Commons.

If you’d like to read this story online for free through Project Gutenberg, click on the link below and scroll down to the middle of the page to “Adventure II.”

The Red-Headed League

An outlandish story, yes? Ah, but wait: in 1874 (15 years before Doyle’s story was published), a New York bank experienced a similar incident – without the red-headed part – where crooks attempted to tunnel into the vault. Below is an excerpted account from the New York Times, regarding the scheme of bank robber John Clare (very close to the name Doyle selected for his criminal) and the sharp policemen who thwarted him:

red03red04red05

For the rest of the article on the sentencing, and how Clare was eventually captured, click here: New York Times

In my searches, I have yet to find evidence that Conan Doyle based “The Red-Headed League” on any bank robbery incident, but the coincidence is interesting nonetheless.

Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? If so, what is your favorite story?

Jess, thanks so much for having me! It was really fun. 😉

Thanks for teaching us about the Red-Headed League! Maybe I’ll start one of my own…

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Now the for book info!

A deadly secret that won’t stay buried…

UnseemlyPursuitsCover 266x400It is the fall of 1896, and Miss Concordia Wells is hip-deep in the usual tumult of a lady professor’s life: classes, clubs, student pranks, and the unending drama generated by the girls she lives with on campus.  Complicating this normality is the new Lady Principal, whom the students have nicknamed “the Ogre.”  The woman seems bent on making Concordia’s life miserable.

And then there’s the exotic spirit medium, Madame Durand, who has befriended Concordia’s mother and has started a “Spirit Club” on campus.  Madame’s prognostications of doom are at first only mildly irritating – until events take a sobering turn.  An ancient Egyptian amulet donated to the college mysteriously disappears, the donor is found murdered, and his daughter – Concordia’s best friend – confesses to killing him.

Desperate for answers, Concordia unravels a 20-year-old secret, closely guarded by men now dead.  But such secrets can be dangerous for the daughters left behind, including Concordia herself.  Can she make sense of the mystery that has bound together their fates, before it’s too late?

Where to buy Unseemly Pursuits:

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Unseemly-Pursuits-Concordia-Wells-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00H3JVSYI

Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Unseemly-Pursuits-Concordia-Mystery-Volume/dp/0991236807/

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/unseemly-pursuits-k-b-owen-kb-owen/1117562781

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/384345

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/unseemly-pursuits

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/unseemly-pursuits-concordia/id775422084?mt=11&uo=4

I so want to read this book!

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SwagKitDuring K.B.’s Unseemly Pursuits book tour, which goes through the first week of March, there’s a giveaway at each blog stop (including here!). The winner, randomly drawn from the commenters at each stop, will get a free ebook copy of Unseemly Pursuits. At the end of the tour, she’ll hold another random drawing from among the ebook winners for the final prize: a special Concordia Wells series swag package! It includes customized mug, keychain, JellyBelly mini-tin, and signed paperback copies of the first two mysteries: Dangerous and Unseemly and Unseemly Pursuits. You can read, sip your coffee, and snack on candy in unseemly style. Check the sidebar on the home page of kbowenmysteries.com for the full tour schedule and other info.

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The Lost Symbol, Or Why I Still Like Dan Brown Books

I love Dan Brown books.  I do.  Most of America agrees with me.  But I also find it fascinating that there are many people in our country who absolutely REFUSE to read his works, most specifically The Da Vinci Code.  I’ve read three of Brown’s works, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and most recently The Lost Symbol.

The Da Vinci Code was the book that put Dan Brown on the map, opening a door to the hidden belief that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and had children, and that their descendants walk among us.  He created popular interest in the secretive and historical groups such as the Knights Templar and Opus Dei as well as the missing gospels.  What I found fascinating about this book was that rather than seeming blasphemous toward religion, I felt it made Jesus more real.  I’ve always been someone attracted to the human side of Jesus, the fact that he was a man, that he struggled throughout life to overcome his obstacles.  Being raised a Catholic and attending Catholic school for 9 years, I remember asking my mother why the Church wouldn’t allow priests to marry?  I thought that would solve a lot of problems.  For starters, a married man can better understand the family lives of his congregation; he’s experiencing the same ups and downs that occur when you’re compromising over what’s for dinner, how to discipline the kids, who’s turn it is drive or pick up groceries, yadda yadda.  Second, it’s a smart business move.  Even when I was in elementary school, the number of men attending seminary was less and less.  Not many have the strength and devotion to choose a life of solitude and move around a lot.  Why in the last 8 years, my family’s Catholic church has had at least 4 different priests.  It seems that whenever they’ve been around long enough to know all the families, they’re sent elsewhere and another one arrives.  If priests were allowed to marry, perhaps more men would devote themselves to the ministry.  But, we’re not here to discuss my views on religion, and I won’t argue with yours.  I do think The Da Vinci Code was a fascinating read that opened my mind to the human side of religious figures.

All of the books I read star Harvard professor of symbology, Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks in the movies.  Angels and Demons is actually the first book and again dips into the intricate and secret world of The Vatican.  Brown stirred up the press with this book discussing the underground society, The Illuminati, a group founded in the 1700’s with the conspiratorial goal of undoing the Church to find true enlightenment.

Hmm, I’m beginning to see why readers are in such a tizz.  Ok, so Dan Brown has a knack for finding and expounding upon ancient historical figures and the conspiracy theories and mysteries that surround them.  Now, this is why I think he’s a fantastic writer!  That’s adventure thriller novel gold!  The man was named one of the most influential people in 2005 by TIME magazine editors for:

“keeping the publishing industry afloat; renewed interest in Leonardo da Vinci and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris and Rome; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; a flood of historical thrillers; and a major motion picture franchise.”

http://www.danbrown.com/#/author/bio

I’d love to have that kind of impact on the world.  Sadly, I’m not sure I have the patience necessary.

In The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon is back and immediately flying to Washington D.C. to present at a conference for a last minute request by his former teacher and mentor, Peter Solomon.  No sooner does he arrive, than the life threatening forces begin to swirl around him.  The bad guy is a tattooed man with a thirst for revenge and the lost word that will make him the most evil minion of the dark forces.  He’s pretty much pure evil.  The secret society of this novel is the Freemasons.  Now, the freemasons historically consisted of many of our nation’s founding members, Presidents, and Supreme Court justices.  Benjamin Franklin, a Freemason, wrote a book about them with his printing press.  Mostly tied to Christianity, the Freemasons appear to be more open-minded, referring to God in a number of manners that suggest any religion could be a part of the Freemasons.  What makes them so intriguing in this book is that Dan Brown delves into the secret and lost (perhaps?) rituals of the society.  In the opening scene, a Freemason ritual is happening where the inductee drinks wine, meant to symbolize blood, from a real human skull.  It certainly paints a different picture than what most of us know about masons, like weird hats, man lodges, and secret handshakes.

It’s no wonder Dan Brown writes about religion with intrigue.  His father was a math teacher and his mom a church organist.  He grew up with both a passion for science and religion.  He combines the two in each of his novels.  In fact, they’ve essentially become his belief system.  In a Q & A he did for The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown said:

I’m fascinated by power, especially veiled power. Shadow power. The National Security Agency. The National Reconnaissance Office. Opus Dei. The idea that everything happens for reasons we’re not quite seeing. It reminds me of religion a little. The power that religion has is that you think nothing is random: If there’s a tragedy in my life, that’s God testing me or sending me a message. That’s what conspiracy theorists do. They say, “The economy’s terrible? Oh, that’s not random. That’s a bunch of rich guys in Prague who sat down and…”

Brown originally attempted a career in the music industry and lived in L.A. for awhile.  Not fitting in, he moved east and became a teacher.  For all you starving, struggling writers out there, listen to this schedule:  When Brown decided to write a book for the first time in his life, he woke up at 4 in the morning every day, wrote until 8, then biked 12 miles to teach spanish at a grade school, biked home, showered/ate and taught English at Phillips – Exeter.  He finished his book Digital Fortress a year later.  By the way, if you want to get really creeped out about a secret eavesdropping society, check out the true event that inspired Dan Brown to write Digital Fortress, a novel centered around the National Security Agency.

Clearly I’ve expressed my profound admiration for the writer Dan Brown and his suspense novels.  If you’ve only seen the films, you’re missing out!  They have too much to tell in too short a time, and the movies almost make the story unbelievable.  The hold your breath, edge of your seat reading of his books is a much better experience!  ESPECIALLY for Angels and Demons, the book has a TOTALLY different ending, which I much prefer.

Have at it!  What’s your opinion of Dan Brown and his franchise of religious suspense novels?  Have you read his works?  What’s your favorite?  Has anyone read his earlier novels, how do they compare?  What thoughts and opinions do you have about his subject matter?  Do you ever stop on a page and wonder, you know, if it’s possible?

Urban Legends of the Southeast Midwest

True story:  Just drive over the third knoll in the road and park your car.  Look in the rearview mirror and I swear you’ll see bodies hanging from the trees.

Urban legends.  We’ve all heard them.  The stories about Mr. Rogers being a marine sniper.  What, he isn’t?!  The Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary bathroom trick.  The Candy Man?  We’ve all grown up with our versions of urban legends.

Because there’s nothing to do in Wisconsin, because I went to Catholic school, because I have an overactive imagination  Eh-hem, because my childhood friends were experts at uncovering mysteries, I know quite a few urban legend stories.  My favorite is Paradise Road.

Geographical Interest

Paradise Road is the real name of a windy street in Jefferson, Wisconsin, coincidentally my hometown’s neighboring city and longtime sports rival.  The road is long and narrow with an S-shaped curve near the end, and surrounded by heavy woods on either side and a few scattered houses that never have their lights on…(ok, I’m playing into the urban legend with the lights part!)

The Truth Behind Paradise Road

     The newsworthy story is that Paradise Road is indirectly the setting of the Diane Borchardt Murder Case.  In April of 1994, Diane Borchardt, a teaching aide at Jefferson High School convinced three teenage boys, Doug Vest, 17, Josh Yanke, 16, and Michael Maldonado, 15, to murder her husband for her.  After a tumultuous marriage, Diane and her husband Ruben were getting a divorce.  Rumors include he was seeing someone else, but his two children from his first marriage say the fighting began long before the divorce began.  Borchardt convinced the young male students she was being abused by her husband and promised them $20,000 from the insurance money along with her wedding and engagement ring and two cars.  On the day of the murder, Borchardt packed up the two dogs and headed to her in-laws alone for Easter.  The boys snuck into the main level of the house and woke Ruben who had moved into the basement while divorce proceedings began.  They shot him twice which woke his son who rushed downstairs to find his father slumped over a chair.  The murder trials began and Vest eventually confessed after receiving no payment from Borchardt.  Vest, Yanke, and Borchardt herself are all doing life in prison, and Maldonado received 18 years.  The home where Ruben and Diane lived and the murder took place was on an intersecting street with Paradise Road.

Two years after the murder, the Diane Borchardt story was made into a TV movie starring Ann-Margret in the main role.  The film was called Seduced by Madness.  Other noteworthy performances in the film include Peter Coyote, Tobey Maguire, and Freddy Rodriguez.  While the film is based mostly on truth, the depiction of Jefferson, WI as a graffiti-painted, gang trodden town with palm trees is FALSE.

The Not So Grounded Truths Behind Paradise Road

Some of the legends surrounding this creepy street include the introductory mention of driving over the third bump in the road to find bodies hanging from trees.

Inexplicable radio frequency issues that begin and end on the street’s path.  It’s totally haunted.

Historical practices of witchcraft in the woods.

Undocumented mentions that it was part of the Underground Railroad.

My Experience Encountering Paradise Road

As I said before, my friends and I had a knack for getting into trouble, going wherever ghosts might be researching the haunted places or urban myths of our southeast midwest town.  The following is a recap of what I’ve witnessed while traveling down Paradise Road (and believe me, we went more than once).  I am willing to admit that the frenzy of legend surrounding this street may have toyed with my gullible and willing mind, but I’m also pretty honest, and had friends with me who witnessed the same things I did.  With that said, you may take it or leave it.

  • Dense layers of fog that parted exactly when we approached the street.
  • Having walked the whole street’s length, I was aware of a shadow floating on the opposite side of the street keeping our pace.  This was at night, and I tested to make sure it did not belong to any of us.
  • A friend and I both witnessed shadowed figures climbing the trees.
  • Upon a random stop in the car, our headlights shown directly on the most intricately carved eye on the side of a tree.
  • Having thought we parked in front of an abandoned house with no lights on, a friend witnessed a hand pull back a window curtain and disappear again.

Photo of Paradise Road Orbs courtesy moonslipper.com

We quickly became enthralled with this place that held so much sinister energy.  We took it upon ourselves to interview the people that lived on Paradise Road and wrote about it in the school paper.  When we began the interviews, hardly anyone would talk to us.  One of the houses we went to was still burning peat for heat in the house.  And both vehicles we were using nearly got stuck in the mud while at one of the houses.  Most of the residents claimed urban legend.  The police continue to patrol the street on Halloween as it’s become a popular place for teens to go seeking a good scare.

I just happened to google Paradise Road and was able to find this image from moonslipper.com, an awesome paranormal blog of the author’s own encounter on Paradise Road.  Click the image or link to hear her story.

Paradise Road:  Fact or Fiction

I can’t say with any proof that Paradise Road is legitimately haunted.  I do know what I’ve seen, and that’s enough to make me think this spooky street has a vibe I don’t want to mess with much.  It’s creepy, that’s a fact.  But I probably wouldn’t have gone there in the first place had it not been for small town urban legends.  I’m glad I did.

What urban legends did you have growing up?  Did you investigate?  Did you ever play Bloody Mary?  I totally did.  Scared the crap out of myself, and then nothing happened.  Still, I’m not about to play it again anytime soon. 

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