The Mystery Writers of America, along with editor Brad Meltzer, have brought together 21 original stories from 21 contemporary mystery writers in The Mystery Box.
On Monday, author Jan Burke introduced readers to the question behind The Mystery Box: What’s inside the box? (Any kind of box.) On Tuesday, Katherine Neville introduced the fascinating history behind her Mystery Box story.
In the last of three guest blog posts, Charles Todd (composed of the mother-son writing duo Charles and Caroline Todd) shares the inspiration behind the story, "The Honour of Dundee."
It was the legend of Pandora that started it all—the mysterious box she wasn’t allowed to open. And when she did, she released all the sorrows of the world to make man’s life wretched. All that was left in the box was Hope—to keep us going. Agatha Christie collected boxes—she found them both intriguing and beautiful. You can see them at Greenway, her fascinating home in the Devon countryside. We have a small collection ourselves, picked up in countries we’ve visited. Easy to pack and a reminder of that moment.
When we were writing our short story for The Mystery Box, we wanted to explore the idea that a box might be something worth killing for—but what happens when the contents of the box are very different from what the killer expected? A variation on the theme of Hope inside. It’s fun to turn something upside-down and look at it from a different perspective.
Many great families had an Honour, something that would protect them or save them in time of peril—like the Fairy Flag of the MacLeods in their stronghold of Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. Even England has such a legend: Arthur and the Knights of his Round Table lie sleeping on the Isle of Avalon, until called to save their country. And there’s Drake as well, the great Elizabethan sea captain who stopped the Spanish Armada. He also waits for the summons. It’s a way of looking at desperate times and knowing that help is there. Perhaps Churchill, while writing his famous speeches in World War II, wished he could call on Arthur to win in France or Drake to deal with the submarine menace. John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee (also remembered as "Bonnie Dundee”), was the Scots leader at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, the forerunner of the Stuart rebellions of 1714 and 1745. And he died there. Bonnie Prince Charlie has supplanted him in the romantic folklore of lost causes. But he was a hero in his day and revered. And there was our title, "The Honour of Dundee."
Put these all together and you can’t resist writing about a mystery box that has historical roots. It’s one of the reasons we enjoy setting stories in Britain—there’s such a rich and infinite vein of material to explore. Mining that vein is the adventure of every trip we take to look for stories and settings. And we’re never disappointed. The box we brought home from England long ago still sits in the glass cabinet where we keep treasures. And we like to think that it holds untold stories. And one day, we’ll open that box and set them free.
Charles and Caroline Todd are the authors of the popular Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series, set in WWI England. Their most recent novel, Proof of Guilt, was featured in our February 2013 Whodunit column.