By Pat Browning
Here’s a news story that warms my heart.
Children’s librarian Judith Flint, who is 56 years old and 4-feet, 10-inches tall, faced down five Vermont state police detectives who wanted to seize the library’s public access computers.
According to an Associated Press story, Flint asked the lead detective for a warrant. He said he didn’t need any paper. Flint said, “Show me the paper.”
That librarian would make a great protagonist in a cozy mystery series.
A bench at Wal-Mart is an ideal place for doing character studies, but for story ideas you can’t beat a newspaper. Many writers keep a file of newspaper clippings. To riff on a famous quote attributed to bank robber Willie Sutton, that’s where the ideas are.
John Dunning is best known for his Bookman mysteries, but early in his career his clip file included a story about a circus fire and a little girl whose body was never identified. Dunning wove that into a novel titled DEADLINE. His protagonist is a journalist who pursues such a story, connecting it to the story of an Amish girl who leaves home to become a Rockette in New York City. DEADLINE was nominated for a 1982 Edgar Award (Best Paperback Original Mystery Novel).
The past week saw a glut of news stories that could start a crime writer mumbling, “What if?”
*In Los Angeles, a 100-year-old fig tree in downtown L.A. has been designated a historic-cultural monument. What if – a tornado pulls it right out of the ground and there’s a skeleton buried there?
*Remember the slogan “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”? In Pittsburg, a convicted felon up on federal gun charges argues that the law allows him to keep loaded guns at home for self-defense. Police found seven pistols, three shotguns and five rifles in his private stash. One might ask: Is he expecting a home invasion or World War III?
*In San Francisco, a brewer named Maytag is about to release another barrel of single-malt rye, 13-year-aged Old Potrero Traditional Pot Distilled Hotaling's Whiskey. It’s the only pot-distilled whiskey made in the U.S. and there are only five barrels left. There are so many what-ifs in that story I can’t count them on the fingers of one hand even when I’m sober.
*Here’s one that might have been dreamed up by a writer for “Boston Legal.” A bicycle thief rode the stolen bike onto the North Washington Street Bridge, jumped off the bridge into Boston Harbor, swam to shore, and ran down a harbor walkway before the cops caught him. I’d like to hear James Spader argue that case.
*Or how about the Wiccan in Indiana who ran a three-foot sword into her foot while performing a good luck ritual? The ceremony calls for candles, incense, a full moon and driving a sword into the ground. What if -- a love rival had been standing just a little too close when the sword came down?
*Now that airline service is so unpredictable, a business traveler has created the Mini-Motel for sleeping in airports. For $39.95 you get a little tent, air mattress, pillow, reading light and alarm clock. What a great way to make new friends. Didn’t Tom Hanks star in that movie?
*The story of the week, the month, the year, comes from Belgrade – the capture of
Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb leader wanted for war crimes but hiding in plain sight since 1998. Karadzic masqueraded as an expert in “human quantum energy,” gave lectures, appeared on TV, and wrote for an alternative medicine magazine. He walked around with a $5 million bounty on his head, but he had business cards and a Web site. He was arrested while waiting for a bus.
There’s a ready-made thriller for a writer like Daniel Silva and his protagonist, Gabriel Allon. And by the bye, MOSCOW RULES, Silva’s latest story of international intrigue, launched this week.
*One more airline story: American Airlines is installing a missile defense system on three of its passenger jets. CNN quotes “experts” who say 500,00 to 700,000 shoulder-fired missiles are abroad in the world, some selling for as little as $5,000. The JetEye defense system works by detecting a heat-seeking missile and firing a laser to divert it.
Makes you want to take the train, doesn’t it? Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Murder on the Orient Express …