Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

Local News

October 15, 2013

True crime inspires best-selling novelist


Gerritsen wondered how often that happens. A lot, apparently. In the 1970s when a man on an autopsy table awoke, “the doctor was so shocked, he had a heart attack and died.” She reported, “Because I’m a thriller novelist, I decided to take ... (the idea) in a thriller direction.” In her 2005 book “Vanish,” the corpse’s eyes pop open just before an autopsy begins.

“Sometimes I get ideas because of personal crises I’m going through,” the author admitted. “I wrote about what I consider the scariest creature on earth and that is the American teenager” in the 1998 book “Bloodstream.” The mother of two sons was disturbed when her 14-year-old and friends broke into a boatyard. “We ended up going to a therapist to see if we were doing something wrong.” He advised the parents to ask adult men what they did at 14 to realize what their son did wasn’t abnormal.

Gerritsen pointed out, “Sometimes you get ideas because of a long-term interest.” The college anthropology student’s senior project was to examine and catalog a couple hundred skeletons in a Stanford basement. “Every so often you would see something that would remind you these were people.” One 1,000-year-old skull had an impacted wisdom tooth. She thought, “‘I know you died with a toothache.’ It was a very human moment.”

Fascinated by mummies and Egyptology, a scientist invited her to a CT scan of a mummy at Poughkeepsie, N.Y. It revealed the man in his 30s had a broken thigh bone. “Maybe the man ... fell off a horse … bled to death.” The writer turned that experience into a modern murder story, 2008’s “The Keepsake.” She said, “I thought that was a really cool and original idea,” but her Egyptologist friend explained the plot already had happened in real life. He consulted on a young female mummy in India. “It was a bad mummification job.” What bothered the scientist was someone had pulled the teeth out, which wouldn’t have happened in ancient times. It turns out the modern family who killed the woman didn’t want her identified because of dental work, so they extracted the teeth and mummified her, hoping to make some money.

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