Monday, April 24, 2017

A Letter from Beyond the Grave

The written word can be a scary thing. When you send a book out into the world you never know where it will wind up or how it will affect people. 

I was reminded of this recently as I am preparing a new edition of the 2011 release of To Dust You Shall Return, book 3 in my Lord Danvers Investigates series. This is a Victorian true-crime series with each book featuring an actual mid-Victorian murder with a fictional one wove around it.

The true crime I recount in this book is the brutal murder of frail, 80-year-old Catherine Bacon in Chatham, near Canterbury. The 2011 book was itself a re-release of the 1995 original edition. Imagine my surprise when I received, nearly a year later, a letter from the great, great, great granddaughter of Catherine Bacon.

Jane, the descendent of my murder victim, was seeking information that would help her locate her ancestor’s grave. Unfortunately, I was unable to help her, as I had researched no further than accounts of the murder itself and the subsequent trial.

Jane, however, was able to fill in several holes in my research, especially the fact that Catherine Bacon and her husband had four sons. Jane was descended from the second son.

In an interview for my blog, I asked Jane how she felt about reading of her ancestress’s murder in a novel. She replied: Had I not been aware of Catherine's murder, I suspect that I would have been mildly irritated that the name of an ancestress of mine had been used as the victim of what appeared to be a fictional crime! However, as I had read nearly one hundred newspaper articles about the crime and trial, I was simply eager to see if the author's research added anything to the knowledge I had already gained.

Jane also said that she appreciated the opportunity to share on my blog because it gave her a chance to share with you my thoughts about the case and a platform to put right some of the incorrect information that appears on the internet. Only too frequently, supposition is placed online and then treated as fact. In these times when amateur genealogy is such a popular pastime and the internet is so often used as a primary source, mistakes are made and perpetuated.

An example of an oft-repeated mistake that she was able to correct was the idea of Charles Dickens family living in my great-great-great-grandmother's house. She explained that, indeed, Dickens had lived in Ordnance Terrace, a had Catherine Bacon, but the house numbers had changed since that time. Fortunately, I had not made that mistake in my book.

One I had made, though, was the identity of Catherine Bacon’s husband. I had mistakenly identified her as the Catherine Bacon married to Colonel Bacon, a hero of The Battle of Waterloo. Jane Explained that there were two other ladies named Catherine Bacon in that area at that time. The one married to an army officer was part of the Unitarian Gaskell family (into which the authoress Mrs Gaskell married) who are ancestors of my husband's family!). However, my Catherine was married to an Engineer who when younger had been personal private assistant to Sir Marc Brunel (you may well know him to be the father of the more famous Isambard K Brunel).

How wonderful to find my character connected, even tangentially, to such luminaries. You can be quite certain I have corrected my error in the up-coming new edition.

In all this I am reminded of the Biblical injunction in Ecclesiastes to “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” That is certainly what happened in my account of the Catherine Bacon story. And how wonderful that, through the wonders of electronic publication, I now have the opportunity to correct my earlier mistake.

You can read the entire interview here where Jane also recounts the fascinating story of how she was contacted by a descendant of her great, great, great, grandmother’s murderer.

And see the newly released first book in the series here.

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 3 mystery series. You can read more about them and see pictures from her research trips here


  1. Yes, Eva, it was amazing--also a good reminder to be careful what one writes. I always strive for accuracy, but an experience like this really keeps me on my toes.