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Cracking the Case

One of the country’s best-selling
mystery writers is about to end one
of the country’s greatest mysteries…

by Maria Hess

 

Readers have long smelled something fishy about novelist Charles Todd. They knew he had established an international reputation and had won countless awards as a writer of historical mysteries based on the adventures of protagonist Inspector Ian Rutledge.

What they couldn’t deduce was why the mystery man was so elusive.

Here’s news: Todd will fess up on November 4 at the Delaware Book Festival in Dover.

He won’t be wearing a deerstalker hat or filling a calabash pipe. He won’t have a five o’clock shadow or a twitch caused by years of caffeine abuse.

In fact, half of “he” will be a she.

Charles Todd is the mother-son team of Caroline Watjen and Charles Watjen of Greenville.

Caroline is a former Associated Press reporter whose maiden name was partially Todd. Her son, Charles, is a resident of North Carolina who took an interest in Shakespeare and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at an age when most youngsters were mastering the Berenstain Bears.

Their shared nom de plume is much more than a pseudonym; it’s a family business. Caroline’s husband, John, a chemical engineer at DuPont for 33 years, is the proofreader. Their daughter, Linda, is the financial advisor.

In 1994, when Charles and Caroline were visiting a Revolutionary War battlefield, Charles spoke poignantly about the soldiers. “So I said, ‘You and I ought to choose a period and write together,’” says Caroline.

Charles laughed. “I said something like, ‘OK, who do you want to murder first?’” he says. He was stunned to learn she was serious.

The writers chose post-World War I Britain as the setting for what became the Ian Rutledge series. Forensics was in its infancy then, and Scotland Yard detectives still relied on good ol’ deductive reasoning. But it was Rutledge’s humanness—and love for humanity—that softened readers’ hearts. Shell-shocked and ridden with guilt for having escaped the bloody trenches of The Great War, Rutledge has somehow managed to unravel complex mysteries over eight installments.

Early book deals were worth about $4,000. Now? Due to astronomical sales, “Let’s just say they’re worth in the six figures,” Linda says.

St. Martin’s and Bantam each published three Todd whodunits. HarperCollins now represents the others, including a January release of Todd’s latest, “A False Mirror,” and a new edition of the first novel, “A Test of Wills.”

Due to the physical distance between them, Charles and Caroline write via phone and fax, yet the resulting text is as seamless as if it had been written by one.

“Charles and I look at each other as two individual people,” says Caroline. “To have this relationship with my son is an amazing gift.”

For details about the Delaware Book Festival, see the calendar on page 94.

 

 

Memoirs of a War

 

Jean Debelle Lamensdorf remembers looking at a critically wounded soldier and thinking his bloody torso looked “like a piece of meat hanging in the butcher shop.” A few minutes later she spoke with the visibly shaken surgeon, who had been unable to save the man.

She realized with shock that she had become inured to the violence of war.

“This is what Vietnam did to people,” Lamensdorf says. “I had become so accustomed to the daily horror. My emotions had been insidiously worn away without my even knowing it.”

Lamensdorf, a native of Australia who has lived in Chadds Ford for more than a decade, had served in Vietnam with the Red Cross, caring for sick and wounded Australian soldiers from June 1966 to June 1967. The period encompassed Australia’s busiest hospital month, worst land mine disaster and worst battle of the war (at Long Tan).

Random House Australia recently published her memoir of that horrific year, “Write Home for Me,” which she penned 35 years after the conflict.

Lamensdorf, then a 26-year-old journalist, longed to cover the biggest story of the decade, but knew that her editor dismissed her as a reporter of “women’s news.” When the Australian Red Cross wanted to send a female volunteer to Vietnam, she seized the chance, figuring that she would also send dispatches from the war. But the work exhausted her physically and drained her emotionally.

She wrote no news, but she did write heart-wrenching letters, dictated to her by injured soldiers, to their homes.

“Write Home for Me” has been well received in Australia, and Lamensdorf has been profiled in all the large-circulation newspapers there. In August she was one of only two civilians invited to attend a 20th anniversary reception at Parliament House to honor those who served during the Battle of Long Tan.

“Write Home for Me” (Random House Australia 2006) is available at Ninth Street Book Store in Wilmington and local Borders bookstores and through the author (jlamensdorf@comcast.net or 610-388-0268).

“The world in general has had time to put the Vietnam War into perspective,” she says. “And now I can look back on my younger self with wisdom, empathy and perspective that I would not have been able to do earlier.”                                            —Theresa Gawlas Medoff

 

Controversy in the Schools? All Fiction.

 

 

It’s only coincidence that “Public Ed,” a darkly humorous tale about the school system, hit the shelves about the time the Christina School District became embroiled in scandal.

Yet it’s no coincidence that the book’s author, Jack Bartley, is a former Christina teacher and that his protagonist, Ed McCleary, is frustrated
by administrators who are creating bogus educational programs to further
their careers.

Does the name of a controversial former Christina superintendent ring a bell?

“Actually no,” says Bartley. “The book was written pre-Joe Wise.”

“Public Ed” is based on Bartley’s frustrating experience as a teacher. He threw a budding love interest into his story, though he was married during the two summers it took him to write it. “I had to keep stressing to my wife that this was a book of fiction,” he says. (Bartley is still married.)

There are, however, several parallels to real life in “Public Ed.” The story takes place in the fictional town of Inanow Bay, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Bethany Beach. Ed McCleary is an award-winning biology teacher, as is Bartley, Delaware’s biology teacher of the year in 2000. And McCleary’s faith in public education is tested, just like Bartley’s was. After 17 years at Glasgow High School, Bartley left to become a campus coordinator for the University of Delaware’s associate in arts program.

Bartley’s self-published book started out as a compilation of the 99 education-themed columns he wrote for the Newark Post while teaching. “But after doing that, it was too personal to Delaware and wouldn’t work with a wider distribution,” he says. To ensure that wide distribution, the book, published by Llumina Press, can be purchased at Amazon.com or on Bartley’s website (www.publicednovel.com).

Bartley already has a vision for the film version of “Public Ed.”

“I see Adam Sandler as Ed McCleary,” he says, “and maybe Sandra Bullock as the love interest.”                                                                              —Maria Hess

 

Old-Fashioned Romance

 

“Sometimes I’m so creative, I can’t sleep at night.”

So says Felton resident Dori Griffin, a Renaissance woman of sorts and author of “Down the Road,” a newly published Christian romance novel.

Griffin’s debut effort tells the tale of a Boston man named Bradford Lee who moves home to Delaware to care for his ailing grandparents.

Bradford subsequently meets two different women, both of whom “are just astonis

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