Saturday, March 16, 2013

Old Car Keeps 'Em Interested

I had a fun time Thursday talking to members of the Stones River Woman's Club at Nashville's Marathon Village, the restored plant and offices of the old Marathon Motor Works that built a popular touring car between 1910 and 1914. We met in the former showroom where I stood near a blue 1914 Marathon with yellow wheels, the same one depicted on the cover of my fourth Greg McKenzie mystery, The Marathon Murders.

I told the ladies how I came to write the book after a suggestion from neighbor Kathleen Mays, whose father had worked on the assembly line in 1914. Since I'm a mystery writer, I looked at the place from a different point of view than most visitors. I found the company's history fascinating, but I concentrated on the dark side, with an eye to anything that might have led to murder.

I found it in Marathon officials' actions that ultimately led it its downfall. The owners made some crucial changes to put a successful company on a fatal decline. They fired the engineer who designed the car and brought in some people who didn't know anything about making automobiles.

What put them in bankruptcy was things like charging too little for their products and selling cars "out the back door," which kept the money off the books.

That was where I found my plot. I had an assistant treasurer disappear and be accused of embezzling funds. His family had no luck trying to refute the charges but never believed he took the money. When his body was found five years later, sitting in his car in an abandoned barn west of Nashville, there was nothing to indicate what had happened or where the money might have gone.

Now, ninety years later, during restoration of the Marathon office building, papers in an envelope bearing the assistant treasurer's name and addressed to the attorney general are found hidden in a wall. The construction foreman plans to bring them to the long-dead official's grandson but never arrives.

My PI's, Greg and Jill McKenzie, are hired to locate the foreman and recover the papers, but they soon find him dead. The woman's club members seemed to enjoy hearing about the book, and several bought copies. It was an enjoyable event for me, since I like nothing better than talking about my books.

To learn more about them, visit my website at

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