Tuesday, December 16, 2014

History's Mysteries

Like most writers, I am a voracious reader. We have a wonderful independent bookstore in our town called The Country Bookseller that I haunt with regularity. But we also have an annual street fair that includes a tent holding thousands of books. The fair is held the first weekend in August, and people come for miles around to search for hidden treasures they know they will find. I usually end up purchasing twenty to thirty books.

I love history, and my stories are set during World War II. Some of the goodies I have found over the years include memoirs from journalists, combat veterans, nurses, factory workers and other “every day” people. I also love reading books written by pioneers in the mystery genre. This past year I picked up Agatha Christie's So Many Steps to Death. It was a fun read, but what intrigued me the most were the two railway tickets I found inside.

The Municipal Railway of San Francisco tickets were dated May 16, 1955 and stuffed between pages 162 and 163, at the beginning of chapter seventeen. Was the placement random, or had the reader stopped at that point never to finish the book? Had something terrible happened to prevent the reader from finishing or did he or she not like the book? So Many Steps to Death was published in 1954, so it was brand new when these tickets were slipped between its pages. How did a sixty year old book from California end up in New Hampshire, more than three thousand miles from its origins? Did the reader move to New Hampshire? Did he or she simply come for a visit and leave the book behind by mistake? Why had no one found the tickets before now? Was 1954 the last time the book had been read? How did it end up for sale at the fair?

Writers are often asked how they come up with story ideas. For me and other authors I know, it is usually serendipitous – an article in a newspaper, an overheard conversation in a restaurant, a letter found in a book (that happened to me last week) or a pair of sixty year old train tickets. The possibilities are endless. I'm already scribbling down potential plot lines.

What sort of treasures have you found in books?

A freelance writer for over ten years, Linda Matchett also writes historical fiction. She is currently seeking a publisher for her series about war correspondent Ruth Brown. Visit her at www.lindashentonmatchett.com


  1. Hi,

    I have found shopping lists, corners torn from newspapers & book marks.

    My local library always puts items found in books - of value - like bookmarks, into a box hoping someone will collect.

  2. What a neat story. The only thing I ever find is money. :-) Let me clarify that. I walk the school parking lot and pick up the change students leave behind. So far this year I've found $23 and before Christmas, it will go to on of the waitresses at a restaurant I frequent.

    1. That's very generous of you. Waitressing is hard work!

  3. Nice story, I'm a 1954 model & can relate to how long those tickets have been there...
    We found some gas rationing stamps in a book & enjoy remembering a story about a grandfather and gas rationing.. I enjoyed your post today..
    dkstevensne AT outlook dOT COm

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. My grandfather worked for Shell oil and was in charge of the ration books for Baltimore and the surrounding area. He had some great stories too.