By Chester Campbell
It's been almost twelve years since my tour of the Holy Land that led to the writing of my first published mystery, Secret of the Scroll. I sent my characters Greg and Jill McKenzie on a similar trip, though I didn't detail all of the places they visited. A few stood out, however, and merited a mention in the story.
It began with the old biblical seaport of Jaffa, also known as Joppa and Yafo. Like most of the old towns in Israel, there are various spellings derived from transliteration of Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, and no telling what else. Located on the southern edge of modern Tel Aviv, Jaffa is a colorful place. Tourists are drawn to its open plaza paved in pale stone and surrounded by restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.
Leading off the square is the Artists' Quarter, a warren of colorful Turkish style buildings reached by narrow lanes that wander around the area. Down a flight of stone steps at one point you find the supposed home of Simon the tanner, where the Bible describes Saint Peter as staying at one point. When I was there, you couldn't go into the house because of a lawsuit over its ownership.
Tour buses park near the square, and this is where Greg is talked into buying a souvenir Dead Sea scroll that is the key event around which I built the plot of the book. My group was besieged by Palestinian souvenir sellers similar to the one the McKenzie's encounter.
A spot I found particularly interesting and used it in the story was the Jordan River crossing between Israel and Jordan. Our Israeli tour bus unloaded us and our luggage at the Israeli customs and immigration facility, where we went through a cursory check on leaving the country. Then we boarded a Jordanian bus for the ride across the Allenby Bridge (Israeli designation after the British general) or King Hussein Bridge, as it's called in Jordan. It's a heavily fortified crossing and provided a good place to get a plot point across.
Other intriguing sites Greg visits when he returns to Israel later in the book include the Church of St. Peter in Galicantu, which occupies the supposed spot where St. Peter denied knowing Christ three times before the cock crowed. It is also reputed to be the location of the home of Caiphas, the high priest, where Jesus was held after his arrest. I used it as a meeting place for Greg and Colonel Jarvis, his Air Force attache friend who shows up again in the fourth book.
Another spot I found most interesting was the Church of All Nations, next to the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. It was built with alabaster windows. Made of translucent stone, the windows have something of the look of stained glass. This location provided the backdrop for Greg to meet the man responsible for Jill's abduction.
The final area I visited that served as a backdrop for the story was the seaport town of Caesarea, the headquarters of Herod the Great and an important city in Roman and Byzantine eras. Caesarea was the site chosen for a swap of Jill for the scroll. You'll have to read the book to find out what happened.
Using unique sites you've visited for key sites in a mystery is a good way to liven up your fiction. Tell us how you've used this technique.