Wednesday, February 15, 2017

DNA Doesn't Lie: Guest post by Martha Reed

MARTHA REED is the author of the award-winning John and Sarah Jarad Nantucket Mystery series. Book one, The Choking Game, was a 2015 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion nominee for Best Traditional Mystery. The Nature of the Grave, book two, won an Independent Publisher (IPPY) Honorable Mention for Mid-Atlantic Best Regional Fiction. Book three, No Rest for the Wicked was released by Buccaneer/KMA Pittsburgh in February, 2017. Martha recently completed a four-year term as the National Chapter Liaison for Sisters in Crime, Inc. You can follow her online at or on Twitter@ReedMartha. 


Two pivotal things happened when I was in high school in 1974: 1) a girl from my neighborhood vanished on her way home from the community swimming pool, and 2) I read Kidnap: The Story of the Lindbergh Case by George Waller.

Both events planted themselves deeply in my fevered teenaged brain. Even then, before I knew I was a crime fiction writer, I knew that someday I’d come back and re-explore these two events.

When I finally sat down years later to start writing crime fiction, the very first thing that popped into my mind was: What would happen if you said see you later to someone, they vanished, and you never saw them again?

This question was the genesis of my Nantucket Mystery, The Nature of the Grave. In this story, Detective John Jarad reopens the twenty-year-old cold case involving his little brother, Danny, who goes missing one day while out riding his bike.

I took the vanishing idea one step further with my third Nantucket Mystery, No Rest for the Wicked by synthesizing the horror of a child abduction and the Lindbergh kidnapping into a modern day ordeal. Because authors must torture their characters, I made it even more difficult for John to solve the fictional Baby Alice kidnapping by placing the cold case ninety years in the past, so that he has to deal with natural attrition, family myth, fading human memory, deliberate misdirection, and outright lies.

The link between all of these things is DNA analysis. I’m fascinated by the continuing development of this modern forensic tool, which wasn’t even available back in 1974, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. For almost thirty years, as I’ve lived my life and traveled the country, I kept my ear open to any news about that missing girl. In April 2001, a local detective reopened the case. Using new investigative methods, including DNA technology, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s Cold Case Squad tracked the killer down and charged him with first-degree felony murder. Case closed.

In No Rest for the Wicked, DNA is the key to deciphering a genetic family puzzle. When state archaeologists lift the lid on a suspicious steamer trunk buried in Nantucket’s landfill, the contents reactive intense interest in the island’s most notorious cold case crime, the Baby Alice Spenser kidnapping in 1921. As John pursues the Baby Alice investigation, myriad family scandals emerge from the Spenser family’s privileged and gilded past. Events flare white-hot when a copycat criminal snatches a second child. John races against the clock to unmask the kidnapper and expose these modern day threats.


Ramona said...

I remember riding my dinosaur to junior high, back in 1974....

I love cold case stories, and the Lindbergh kidnapping remains fascinating after all this time. A good choice as a starting point, Martha, for the excellent Nantucket series.

Martha Reed said...

Yabba Dabba Do, me too. I'm fascinated by genome study. It's rewriting history.