It's warming up in Southern California, and if you're like me you're probably ready for a good beach/mountain/hammock/chaise lounge summer reading book. This week's book review highlights the Genealogical Crime Mystery Series by author Steve Robinson who was kind enough to answer a few genealogy specific questions via email.
In the Blood introduced readers to the affable Jefferson Tayte, an overweight American genealogist with a penchant for peanuts and a fear of flying. The latter places Tayte at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to onsite research "over the pond." He nearly loses his deep-pockets client over his reluctance to pursue the necessary research, but with grim determination he braves the air to beat out his genealogy competition and move the storyline from the U.S. to England.
Tayte, or J.T. as he likes to be called, is a career genealogist drawn to the profession by the hollow spaces in his own past. At the death of his adoptive parents he discovers a photo of his birth mother and an apologetic note for not sharing the news sooner. Despite his expertise, Tayte has yet to uncover his own story and spends his time unraveling the past for his clients.
When a wealthy Boson financier hires Tayte to uncover his wife's ancestry, neither expect to find a part of the family that literally disappears between Massachusetts and Cornwall. JT is puzzled by the lack of information, but it's the client who pushes for a resolution even if it will cost him a hefty amount, "…get over there and talk to those people. Confirm things. Half a job's no good to me."
Tayte's journey to England expands as author Robinson develops a second plot revealing the eighteenth-century secret of what really happened to the Fairborne family. The two stories intersect as Tayte's investigation threatens the present with truths that will undermine generations and unsettle a legacy.
In the Blood debuted as an author-published eBook last summer and I first heard about it via Twitter and Facebook. Within a few months, the novel had been named as a group read by the Goodreads UK Amazon Kindle Forum and selected by Amazon UK as one of the "Best Books of 2011" in the Kindle customer favorites category. The paperback edition was published in December 2011.
British Steve Robinson worked in software and telecommunications until "redundancy" pushed him into a writing career. Like Jefferson Tayte, he has a nearby blank space on his family tree -- his maternal grandfather, an American GI who lived in England during WWII. I was curious about Robinson's own interest in genealogy and why he chose a professional genealogist as his main character detective, and contacted him via email. He's been kind enough to answer a few questions and confesses a weakness most family historians share -- a fondness for the "thrill of the hunt."
A Chat With Steve Robinson
Family Curator: How did you come up with the character of Jefferson Tayte, professional genealogist? Is he modeled after someone you know?
Steve: The short answer is no, but I’ll try to explain where he did come from. When I set out to write In the Blood all I had was a National Trust pamphlet that had a verse inside it, written by a farmer in 1803 about the ferrymen who operated the Helford ferry in Cornwall at the time. The verse, reproduced in my first book, was quite damning and I asked myself, ‘What if the farmer was murdered the night he wrote it?’ I began to imagine the rest of the story from that. Why was he murdered? Who murdered him? From there I knew I needed a way to get to that past story from the present and so the idea of genealogist was born.
The character of Jefferson Tayte is based on no one in particular, although I had the image of a couple of actors in mind when I set about defining him. I knew I didn’t want him to be a stereotype action hero with chiseled features and a six-pack. He gets into plenty of action as other people try to stop him uncovering the past but I thought it would be good to cast him as a fish-out-of-water type - an everyman. I define his actions in any given situation by asking myself what I would do, or what I think or hope I would do, if I was in that situation. I gave him a light side to counter the deeper, psychological issues he’s had since learning that his mother abandoned him as a baby. Not knowing who he is eats away at him and the upside of that is that it also drives him to be good at what he does. I hope we’ll someday make that journey of discovery with him when it comes time for him to find his own answers.
Family Curator: You say that you are not a genealogist, but it's obvious you know the basics of genealogical research. You even make a point through J.T. to acknowledge the difficulties in family history research. How did you learn enough to feel confident using this profession in your books?
Steve: All the research JT has worked through in my books, I have done myself or at least done to a point where I knew what was possible and what was not. That was the only way I felt I could be accurate and fully appreciate what it’s like to be a genealogist, working through the problems real genealogists face in their research. I’m sure that’s helped to make my character seem like a real genealogist even if I am not, which was always my goal. I’ve learnt a great deal and if my writing career doesn’t work out then I may well go pro as a genealogist, lol, but writing about a genealogist gives me the best of both worlds. I love the research and that’s something that writing and genealogy very much have in common.
Family Curator: Your website mentions your search for your maternal grandfather through military records to Arkansas and San Francisco. Have you traced other family lines? Do you have ancestors who might inspire other story lines or characters in your writing?
I think this was partly why I turned to genealogy to tell the story of In the Blood. My maternal grandfather has always been a mystery to me and I suppose that sense of wonder about who he is or was has been at the back of my mind for some time. I went as far as I could go without too much difficulty and I was able to give my mother his military service number with which I knew she could unlock so much more. As my mother and grandmother are still alive and I’m not direct next of kin I felt that it was up to them to take the next step if they wanted to. It’s difficult isn’t it? But I felt that it wasn’t something I should try to cajole them into and so for now at least the search has gone no further. As for tracing other family lines, I find that my writing takes up all my time, although I have certainly been inspired by my recent ancestors who helped a great deal with the wartime narrative that is so much a part of my second book, To the Grave.
Thanks very much for asking me along. If any Family Curator website subscribers would like to chat further about anything just give me a shout.
Questions & Comments Welcome
Steve will be checking in on the comments of this review, so please feel free to ask questions or leave a note for him. Thanks, Steve, for sharing thoughts. I know I am already looking forward to J.T.'s next adventure.
Robinson's novels are the kind of books that put the 'Summer' in reading to me. I thoroughly enjoyed In the Blood and the main character Jefferson Tayte. To the Grave, the second book in the series was released in June 2012, but I can't say much about it, yet. I've been saving it to take my mind of the flight on an upcoming trip! You can read about it on Robinson's website and on Steve Robinson's Amazon Page.
In the Blood (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery) Kindle, Paperback, Audio
To the Grave (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery) Kindle, Paperback, Audio
Visit Steve Robinson's Website for updated book news www.steve-robinson.me