By Chester Campbell
Every author gets one of those suggestions occasionally from an acquaintance or a passerby at a book signing. I usually smile or nod or give some such non-response. But when I was getting ready to write my fourth Greg McKenzie mystery, a neighbor pushing ninety stopped with obvious excitement to tell me about a visit to the restored factory and office building of Marathon Motor Works just beyond downtown Nashville. Her father had worked there on the assembly line in 1914, the year the company stopped production.
"You ought to go over there and look at the place and put it in your next book," she said.
An entrepreneur with a vision had bought the old buildings located in an unsavory part of town and long abandoned. He had researched the company's history, learning it had produced a popular touring car in Nashville from 1910 to 1914. the only automobile ever produced entirely in the South. He had been restoring the buildings to provide space for creative types like artists, photographers, and musicians.
In wandering around the place, which was still in the process of being restored, I noticed it had thick interior walls. Former office spaces contained decorative wood facing in places such as corners in a wall. I got to thinking what somebody might have hidden behind one of those decorative panels. And a mystery novel was born.
Most of the Marathon Motor Works background in the book is factual, with names changed to protect the guilty. The Marathon car made quite a splash in the automobile world. It was sold at dealerships around the U.S. and in several foreign countries. The owners made several mistakes that doomed the business. They fired the engineer who created the car and brought in new management who knew nothing about manufacturing or selling automobiles. And there was skullduggery afoot, with cars being "sold out the back door" at less than cost.
With this background, I created an assistant treasurer, Sydney Liggett, who disappeared in the midst of this financial fiasco and was accused of embezzling funds. His body was found a few years later seated in his Marathon in an abandoned barn a few miles from Nashville. Thus the cover artwork. Ninety years later, papers are found in the wall of his office that may have some bearing on the case. But the construction foreman who had them disappears before he can show them to Liggett's grandson, now in his eighties and in a nursing home.
It is at this point the story begins with Liggett's great-great granddaughter retaining my senior sleuths, Greg and Jill McKenzie, to find the foreman and recover the old Marathon records. As you might imagine, when they find the foreman, he's in his Jeep at the bottom of a lake. I put the murder in a rural county where the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation takes charge of the case. The TBI detective is a major character in the story.
The Marathon Murders is the fourth book in my six-book (so far) series and was published in 2004. The ebook version will be free in the Kindle Store Monday through Wednesday, January 25-27. If you can't wait till then, it's only $2.99 anyway.
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