Hometown history: Author finds inspiration for mystery in own backyard
By Casey Fabris Special to the Whig | Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 7:00 am
CHESAPEAKE CITY — If you live in a house as old as David Healey’s, you never know what you’re going to find in the walls, the floorboards or the attic.
When renovating his 1913 Chesapeake City home, Healey is on the lookout for money.
A few years ago, the son of the former homeowner came knocking. Healey gave him a tour, showing off the various renovation projects he and his wife had taken on in the 20 years since they bought the house.
But the son didn’t seem interested in renovations, Healey said. He had clearly come for something else.
He finally admitted he came to find out if Healey had ever found money hidden in the house. The mystery at Healey’s home ends there. He and his wife still haven’t found any money, but the visit stuck with Healey.
“That little incident got me thinking: What other secrets does a house have?” Healey said.
The encounter gave Healey, an author and former journalist, the idea for his newest novel, “The House That Went Down With the Ship,” which was released earlier this summer.
Healey is the author of numerous published novels and non-fiction works, including historical thrillers and Civil War history. But his latest novel is the first in which he takes the reader to present day and his hometown.
Healey upped the ante for the book – it’s a body that’s found hidden in the walls of the fictional old Captain Cosden home – but the inspiration came from his own experience.
Because the story and the home in the book are loosely based on Healey’s own experience, he decided to set the book in Chesapeake City.
“Of course, I’ve been kidding with everyone that I hope they like the book because it’s set here in town where we live. So we might have to move if they don’t like what they read,” Healey said, laughing.
The history behind Chesapeake City made it the perfect setting for his book, which is a mystery about a home improvement TV show that comes to the town to fix up an old house. When renovations begin, a body is found within the walls of the house, which puts a stop to the project. Tom Martell, the show’s producer, takes it upon himself to solve the murder.
The book draws from Healey’s own “adventures in renovating.” Though he admits he isn’t an expert, it’s definitely one of his hobbies.
“My wife and I have told our kids, ‘Don’t buy an old house.’ On the weekends you may want to do something like go for a bike ride instead of put up drywall,” Healey said.
Setting his latest book in Chesapeake City also gave Healey a chance to spotlight town. The small-town charm is something Healey tried to incorporate into the book, as it’s a trademark of the town.
“Anyone who lives in a small town knows part of what makes it fun is that it’s quirky,” Healey said. “There are quirky people, quirky places in a small town. So as much as possible, I tried to include those in the story.”
Healey insists that none of the characters in the book are based on real people from town and said that was something he made a point to do. Making sure not to include any real townspeople was the biggest hurdle Healey said he had to overcome in writing the book.
Still, he said, there are always some people who think certain characters are a little too familiar.
“The people are original, however, Chesapeake City stars as itself,” he said.
In “The House That Went Down With the Ship,” Healey tried to include tidbits of local history throughout the story. He was careful not to bog it down with too much history, but tried to make it so the reader walks away having learned something.
Though he writes both fiction and non-fiction, history tends to play a part in all of his books.
With fiction, he gets an opportunity to rewrite the past. With non-fiction, he gets to research the real stories of individuals. The processes are so different, Healey said, that he doesn’t prefer one more than the other.
“What’s fascinating about history is that you get to time travel and you really get to use your imagination,” he said. “A lot of people think that history is a lot of kind of dry facts and figures, but, to me, it’s not.”