the 4th Ben Reese mystery
Historic families have owned Georgia’s Cumberland Island ever since the Revolution, but by 1961 only the Hill family’s survived, and they’re at risk too. Charlotte, the family matriarch, has died suddenly and mysteriously, leaving her sister-in-law, Hannah, to protect the idyllic wilderness. Hannah’s bedridden with MS, however, and the younger generation hasn’t inherited their devotion to the land, which is threatened now by developers and government takeover as well.
A death occurs from natural causes, but Ben Reese (archivist, ex-World War II scout, Hill family friend) knows appearances can be deceiving. There’s no dearth of suspects, who’ve circled the deceased, coveting Cumberland, caught fast in troubles of their own devising.
Displaced descendants of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene believe they have a right to Hannah’s inherited land, among them a self-seeking real estate agent who has profitable plans for Cumberland. National park bureaucrats, opposed by Hannah but pressed by a local politician, are threatening to take Cumberland by right of eminent domain. Other islanders hide questionable pasts involving arson and mercy killing.
The investigation takes Ben to Savannah and Charleston and points north, as he works to unravel a tightly woven tangle of good and evil-obsession that’s complicated by the controversies pressuring the souls on Cumberland, forcing Ben to take sides.
Available as an ebook and in print from Amazon, B&N.com and IndieBound
Out Of The Ruins took root in my own brain in 1978 when I first read about Cumberland Island in National Geographic. I was stunned by the photographs of a virtually untouched Georgia sea island covered by live oaks and wild palmetto forest, bound by salt marsh and miles of untouched beach.
There was great history on Cumberland too that whispered to me in the night, hundreds of years of deeds done by people with household names—James Oglethorpe, Nathanael Greene, Robert E. Lee, and his father “Light Horse” Harry, Eli Whitney, Thomas Carnegie (brilliant old Andrew’s brother)—who left forts and graves and ruined mansions and a home-turned-inn behind them.
Our kids were toddlers in 1978, and the thought of a nearly deserted island held a certain appeal. When Joe and I got there and saw the wild horses and the white sand beaches and the tunneled paths through twisted oaks, when we rocked in high-backed rockers on the pillared porch and talked with new friends late into the night, when we walked the ruins of the Carnegie houses—I knew I had to know more.
The conflict appealed to me as much as anything—the fight raging between the Carnegie owners of Greyfield Inn and the National Park Service, which was threatening to condemn the Carnegie land and take it by right of eminent domain to add to park land recently purchased down on the southern end. I didn’t have time to read about it then, in the inn’s several scrapbooks, for Joe’s dad needed surgery and we were leaving early. I knew I’d write about Cumberland, though in what context, or when it would be, I had no idea.
I had no intention of talking about the Carnegies, so I studied James J. Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railroad. I gave him a fictional brother, and got him to buy Cumberland.
I read about the Lees; I studied the lives of the Greenes, and their overseer, and made-up various descendants. I repeatedly interviewed an incredible woman who’d been bedridden for years with MS and held strong views on euthanasia. I went back to Cumberland (and to Charleston and Savannah and Beaufort, South Carolina, and to Tryon, North Carolina). I began to piece a plot together I thought would keep me interested for at least the two years it takes me to write a Ben Reese novel.
I wanted to call it Behind The Bonehouse. (So did my editors and my agent.) Why it isn’t is a very long story (which you won’t be hearing from me).
What They’re Saying:
“[An] impeccable mystery [that] manages to take conventional plot devices—in an isolated island, a startling will, a generations-old family feud—and make them fresh.” –Publishers Weekly
“Out of the Ruins bristles with fascinating characters caught in satisfying complications — a masterpiece of suspense. Georgia’s wild, romantic Cumberland Island is steeped in family secrets. Hannah Hill, a widow patiently suffering from multiple sclerosis, dies in her large inherited mansion just days after telling her visitor Ben Reese about a disguised nighttime intruder. Treading carefully around questions about mercy and human suffering, Ben pursues a tangle of motives and old mysteries — euthanasia, arson, poaching, and jealousy between two great island families.” –Amazon