Friday, June 26, 2009

Part 2 -- Creating The Rune Stone Murders

It’s amazing how time gets away from you. I was planning to post part two of "Creating the Rune Stone Murders" late last week. But massive storms inundated Chicago on Friday. Instead of writing my blog, I spent the day helping my husband pump rainwater out of our basement. Saturday I had a book signing at Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore followed by a birthday party for my great-nephew and a bowling party with my grandchildren. Sunday we celebrated Father’s Day with a barbecue at my daughter’s house. Then on Monday and Tuesday I babysat my 4-month-old grandson Christian all day. As for Wednesday…don’t even ask!

But now it’s Thursday, and without any more excuses, here’s how a History Channel program extolling the exploits of Leif Erikson helped me tie my perfect heist plot to a Renaissance Fair setting.

For those of you who dozed through World History in high school, let me give you a brief background lesson on Leif Erikson.

Leif was a Norseman – or Viking – who was born in Iceland over a thousand years ago and lived most of his life in Greenland. Like all adventurous Vikings, Leif spent a good deal of his time aboard ships. Around the year 1001, he sailed west from Greenland in search of new lands. He eventually put ashore at a place he called Helluland ("Land of the Flat Stones"), now reckoned to be Canada’s Baffin Island. From Helluland he sailed on to a forested region he named Markland ("Wood-land") in what is believed to be modern day Labrador. After more time at sea, he finally dropped anchor in Vinland ("Wine-land" or "Meadow-land") where he spent the winter.

Vinland’s exact location remains unclear, but historians believe it was somewhere along the Canadian or New England coastlines. Those who favor the Canadian theory were cheered by the discovery in 1960 of the remains a Norse settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. The structures and artifacts found there didn’t prove conclusively that Vinland and L’Anse aux Meadows were one and the same. But they did prove without a doubt that Leif Ericson reached North America approximately 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

There are those who believe that Ericson – or his followers – explored not only the coastline of North America, but also the interior of the continent. In 1898, Olaf Ohman uncovered a possible Viking relic while farming in Minnesota. The stone he dug up was covered with runes, letters from the ancient Norse alphabet. Known as "The Kensington Rune Stone", the artifact was the subject of much debate among archaeologists. Some dismissed it as a hoax while others swore it was authentic. Despite the controversy, the stone was placed in a Minnesota museum where, nine years ago, two respected scientists examined it using modern technology. Their tests showed the stone to be at least 700 years old. Dated to the 1300’s, the Kensington Rune Stone appears to be a genuine record of Viking exploration into the heart of America.

All the above information was covered in the History Channel’s program. A thought occurred to me after watching it: if the Vikings reached Minnesota via the Great Lakes, why couldn’t they also have reached Illinois, home to my fictional university town of Rhineburg? And if they did reach it, why couldn’t they have left a rune stone behind to record their achievement?

A perfect heist, a Renaissance Fair, and a rune stone. Hmmm….

And then it came to me. What if the students at Rhineburg’s Bruck University dug up a rune stone while preparing for the school’s annual Renaissance Fair? And what if the rune stone was stolen, thus leading to an investigation by my main characters, Caroline Rhodes and Professor Carl Atwater?

But why steal a rune stone? And how could I tie the theft to the perfect heist I’d already plotted for the book?

These and other questions will be answered in part three of "Creating The Rune Stone Murders".


  1. Hi Mary,
    I greatly enjoyed reading Th Rune Stone Murders and getting acquainted with the lead characters. I finished the novel feeling slightly frustrated because the mystery of the Rune Stone was never clarified. Was it authentic? OR NOT? This reader wants to know. I'd love for it to be authentic and perhaps to lead to another mystery some time in the future. What might happen? Meanwhile, I am looking forward to my next Rhodes to Mystery. Thank you.

  2. Life intrusions do get in the way sometimes for blogging. I've not been as diligent lately since I've had to get Killer Career ready. Very soon I can breathe a lot easier. It's taking shape.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Sherry, in the book, the stone was never found again -- Caroline and Carl figured it was thrown into the river, so no one could prove if it was real or not. Carl assumed students were playing a joke of Littlewort, and that's why the boys were uncomfortable about Littlewort's rant when he first saw it. I left it up to the reader to decide whether or not the Vikings could have actually reached Illinois and left such an artifact.

    I hadn't thought of it before, but you're right -- I could bring the stone back in another story. I just might do that!

    Glad you enjoyed the book. :)