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Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Guest Blogger: Anne Trager: Alchemy 101—Can You Make Your Own Gold?

Alchemy 101—Can You Make Your Own Gold?

Anne Trager, translator
The Lafayette Sword by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Can you actually make your own gold? I uncovered the truth recently while working on a fun thriller by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne called The Lafayette Sword. The plot has gold fever, Freemasonry, murders, and the quest for a stolen, priceless sword. It also has alchemy. It’s fiction, but to write it, the authors did a lot of research, and to translate it, so did I.

What exactly is alchemy?

Alchemy dates back four millennia, spans three continents (China, India and Europe), and includes a lot of symbolic mumbo-jumbo. But in short, it was part science, part magic.

Medieval European alchemy set out to make a substance called the philosopher’s stone—it was not actually a stone, but similar to wax in consistency. It was supposed to transform base metals into gold. Perfect for the greedy and power hungry, you may think. In fact, alchemy was more than a quest for a money-machine. It was also a symbolic journey of self-realization and the precursor to chemistry.

Magnum Opus

At the time, people thought everything was made up of fire, air, water and earth. If a common metal like lead was made of these elements, then gold was too. Thus, in theory, one could be transformed into the other.

The alchemical world view also included the idea of progression or maturation. Gold was considered the most mature metal because it had a perfect balance of these four elements. In some traditions, it also symbolized the most advanced stage in a person’s spiritual refinement. The transmutation of lead into gold was like the transmutation of the physical body into a higher energy—that is, becoming immortal.

The key was in the philosopher’s stone, which not only transformed metals, but also had healing powers, and was an essential ingredient in the elixir of life.

So, the alchemical Great Work, or Magnum Opus, was the process of working with the prima materia to create the philosopher’s stone. It ultimately led to gold, a perfect body and soul, and enlightenment—an enticing promise.

Pseudo-science?

Not so fast. As an article in Scientific American states,

“Alchemists have often been dismissed as pseudoscientific charlatans but in many ways they paved the way for modern chemistry and medicine. The alchemists of the 16th and 17th centuries developed new experimental techniques, medicines and other chemical concoctions, such as pigments. And many of them ‘were amazingly good experimentalists,’ says Lawrence Principe, a chemist and science historian at Johns Hopkins University. ‘Any modern professor of chemistry today would be more than happy to hire some of these guys as lab techs.’ The alchemists counted among their number Irish-born scientist Robert Boyle, credited as one of the founders of modern chemistry; pioneering Swiss-born physician Paracelsus; and English physicist Isaac Newton.”

Isaac Newton, who was a Freemason and practiced alchemy throughout his life, even played an important role in the gold market. In 1696, he was appointed to the Royal Mint. At the time coin counterfeiting was rampant. He managed to recall all the coins in circulation, manufacture and issue new secure coinage and introduce the gold standard. Go Isaac!

Perhaps the most famous alchemist of all times was Nicolas Flamel, who figures in The Lafayette Sword, as readers follow his quest for the philosopher’s stone. The legend around him grew during the seventeenth century, when alchemy was all the rage, and continues to this day. He’s quoted in Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, he figures in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, he’s mentioned in The Da Vinci Code. (Now, that’s an odd combination of titles to have in one sentence.)

Yes, you can

Today alchemy is actually possible. We have the technology, and it’s been done. Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg tranmuted tiny quantities of bismuth into gold in 1980. What you need, again according to Scientific American is: “a particle accelerator, a vast supply of energy and an extremely low expectation of how much gold you will end up with.” The current consensus is that it would cost way too much (a quadrillion dollars per ounce) to be worth it.

Find out more

¥ For an in-depth examination of gold from antiquity to modern times, read Peter Bernstein’s The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession.

¥ The World Gold Council, www.gold.org, provides information about current prices, mining, supply and demand and research.

¥ For more about gold market manipulation, and the inspiration for the worldwide gold conspiracy in The Lafayette Sword: Gold Anti-trust Action Committee www.gata.org.

¥ On the science of turning lead into gold: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-lead-can-be-turned-into-gold/

¥ More on Newton: Newton and the Counterfeiter by Thomas Levenson

¥ More on alchemy: http://www.alchemywebsite.com/

Gold. Obsession. Secrets.

Cover

Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne rank at the top of France’s best-selling thriller writers list. They owe their international renown to their series about the Freemason Inspector Antoine Marcas, which made its U.S. debut last year with Shadow Ritual. Now, The Lafayette Sword is available in English.

Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt. A priceless sword is stolen and deaths ensue setting the Freemason detective on a case of Masons turned bad. A clue points to mysteries and conspiracy about elusive pure gold, launching a frantic, deadly race between two symbolic places—the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower. A captivating plot weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages into a modern-day thriller.

Web page: http://www.lefrenchbook.com/the-lafayette-sword

Praise for the series

•“Vivid characters, evocative international settings, and a history darker than midnight. I highly recommend!” —Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling coauthor of the famed Pendergast series of novel

•“A race against the clock.” —Le Figaro

•“A superbly esoteric blend of history and adventure.” —Glenn Cooper, internationally bestselling thriller writer

•“Giacometti and Ravenne’s series kickoff has abundant visceral appeal.” —Kirkus Reviews

•“Brilliantly plotted and well researched.” —Le Parisien

The authors

Authors

Eric Giacometti studied biochemistry and genetics in Toulouse, France, before going into journalism. Then, at the height of his career as an investigative reporter, Eric Giacometti was contaminated by the thriller virus. His life took on another dimension: journalist by day, writer by night. In 2013, he left his full-time reporting job with a French daily newspaper to work freelance and write. He teaches journalism and writing.

Jacques Ravenne is a high-level French Freemason. He is also a literary critic, known for his work on the writers Paul Valéry, Yves Bonnefoy, Gérard de Nerval and Stéphane Mallarmé. In addition to his academic work, he was also a local elected official for a number of years, and contributes regularly to Freemason publications. He discovered the Marquis de Sade’s château in 1985, beginning a

long fascination with the man, which has resulted in an anthology of his correspondence and a novel based on Sade’s life.

Book Info: http://www.lefrenchbook.com/the-lafayette-sword

Best,
Anne Trager
Le French Book
French books you’ll love in English!

Anne1

Anne Trager is the founder of Le French Book, a publisher dedicated to hand-picking, translating and publishing top crime fiction from Europe. Their recent release The Lafayette Sword is by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne, who rank at the top of France’s best-selling thriller writers list. They owe their international renown (over 2 million copies sold) to their series about the Freemason Inspector Antoine Marcas, which made its U.S. debut last year with Shadow Ritual. Now, The Lafayette Sword is available in English. Following the murder of a Freemason brother, Antoine Marcas uncovers unsettling truths about gold and its power to fascinate and corrupt in a captivating plot that weaves alchemy and the Middle Ages in to a modern-day thriller. Find out more here. Or read an extended sneak preview here.

 

Father’s Unborn Twin Is the Genetic “Father” of His Son

A couple of years ago a happy couple in Washington welcomed a new baby boy. All was good until a paternity test showed that the father was not the father. Uh-oh. Well, it’s not really that bad. Turns out that genetic testing revealed the father was a chimera and the genetic testing was confused by his unborn twin’s DNA, which the father had absorbed in utero. Chimerism is an odd and interesting medical entity.

 

Greek Chimera

In Greek Mythology, the Chimera was a fire-breathing female that was part lion, part goat, and part dragon. Fortunately, human chimeras, which result from the combining of two or more human embryos in utero, are typically normal in every way—-except for that DNA stuff.

I’ve blogged and had Guest Bloggers comment on chimeras before:

Q&A: How Could My Sleuth Recognize a Chimera?

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/qa-how-could-my-sleuth-recognize-a-chimera/

Guest Blogger: EE Giorgi: I Am My Mother’s Chimera. Chances Are, So Are You

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/guest-blogger-ee-giorgi-i-am-my-mothers-chimera-chances-are-so-are-you/

Guest Blogger: Human Chimerism: Mindboggling DNA Tests Gone Wrong

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/human-chimerism-mindboggling-dna-tests-gone-wrong-guest-blogger/

http://www.people.com/article/man-fails-paternity-test-twins-genes

 

Guest Blogger: Katherine Ramsland: Walk in My Shoes, Said the Serial Killer

Walk in My Shoes, Said the Serial Killer

By Katherine Ramsland

It’s easy these days to find quickie guides to forensic science and psychology. You have to look harder if you want in-depth details from experts. That’s why I like being interviewed for Crime and Science Radio with D. P. Lyle and Jan Burke. They’re both forensic professionals who are also writers. They ask good questions because they have extensive knowledge and experience.

I have a Crime and Science program coming up on August 13 regarding the writing of my two latest books, The Ripper Letter (a novel) and Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. (http://www.dplylemd.com/crime–science-radio.html) Since Confession will be published in early September, I’ve been asked a lot about it, which sends me back to the text again and again to relive the experience of working closely for five years with a serial killer.

A peculiar thing about me, and maybe this is true of other writers, is that I move so fast from one project to the next that I often forget what I’ve just written. Because the BTK book took much longer than most of my books (and since I’m still in touch with him), I recall a lot about the experience. Yet when I look through the pages, I’m surprised by how dense with information this book is.

 

Ramsland_ConfessionSerialKiller

 

It begins with my struggle to understand Rader’s codes, covers his “dark journey” from his point of view, and ends with my professional evaluation. As disturbing as many of his revelations were, it has been among the most interesting book-related experiences of my life (and I went undercover with vampires for over a year!)

First, let me say why this project took five years. Rader had signed over his “life rights” to his victims’ families, and they evaluated authors who asked for a shot at this project. I passed the test, because I planned to give Rader’s memoir serious treatment that would benefit law enforcement and the fields of criminology and forensic psychology. I also agreed that they should benefit financially.

Once approved, I had to read five years’ worth of letters and documents that Rader had turned over to the family trust in order to write a proposal. Then I had to convince my agent. There were many layers. All during this time, I guided Rader through his autobiography.

So, this book is not just a serial killer blathering on about himself. We’ve had books like that already. Instead, his narrative is structured with what we know from criminological research. I filled in the theoretical details and provided Rader with specific items to read and ponder. Rader did talk in detail about each of his murders, but he also described the factors that he believed weighed most heavily in his trajectory toward serial violence. He proved to have some interesting self-reflections.

Rader has counted over 100 letters to me to date, some of which were 20-30 pages long. He also talked with me weekly by phone, and drew explicit pictures from his fantasy life, providing a rare opportunity to get inside the mind of an organized, predatory serial killer who based his killing career on specific role models. His story, in his own words, is fascinating. Some readers have told me that it’s also frightening.

Because I listened to Rader and assisted him to view his “dark side” from various angles, including neuroscience (which fascinated him), he dove deep. It took nearly two years before he opened up in a way that I think is valuable for criminologists and psychologists, but he did manage it. We taught things to each other, which doesn’t happen very often in my world.

So, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss it in a lively presentation with Lyle and Burke. A production of Suspense Magazine, Crime and Science Radio airs every other Saturday at 10 AM PT on Blogtalk Radio. It’s free!

 

NOTE: Join Katherine on CRIME AND SCIENCE RADIO as Jan and I welcome her to discuss her work on this amazing book and many other topics.

MORE INFO: http://www.dplylemd.com/crime–science-radio.html

 

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

 

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Everything Old Is New Again

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

My character, Cleveland forensic specialist Maggie Gardner, is unrealistic in one respect—she still spends a lot of time at her microscope looking at tiny bits of trace evidence, hairs, fibers, paint, and glass.

No one does that any more. Well, maybe Abby on NCIS, but she’s the most unrealistic forensic person on screen, even though she’s so cute we don’t care.

Sure, on old episodes of Dragnet you can see some nerdy guy in a lab coat explain how these pollen spores are only found in one quadrant of the city, but that art had already died before I started in forensics in 1994. We got spoiled by DNA, by ‘absolutely yes’ or ‘absolutely no’ answers. No one wanted to hear that this red nylon was ‘consistent with’ the suspect’s shirt, because they wouldn’t be hearing how many red nylon shirts were manufactured, how many were sold in this area, and while we’re at it let’s hack into Macy’s sales figures and find out who they were sold to. Unlike television, forensic labs do not have databases of all this information and would probably be violating a few important laws if they did. Nope, ‘consistent with’ was all you got. Take it or leave it.

 

Polyurethane_Fibers

POLYURETHANE FIBERS

They left it. Microscopic analysis became more or less a thing of the past. Forensic techs today wouldn’t recognize a pollen spore or know what to do with it if they did. Fibers are ignored. Hairs are examined only to screen out candidates for, well, DNA.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I peruse the latest Journal of Forensic Sciences and stumble on an article about using something called palynological scanning to rapidly evaluate suspect and victim testimony.

 

pollen

POLLEN

Palynology, it turns out, is a fancy name for…pollen. Pollen and spores and other ‘microscopic entities’ of trees, shrubs and herbs. No hairs, fibers or paint, but you get the idea. This analysis proved useful in some cases of rape or assault, in situations where the victim and suspect both contacted the ground and pieces of the ambient flora could attach to their clothing.

 

trees

 

In one case the suspect said he and his victim engaged on a lawn behind a public building. The victim said he attacked in a heavily wooded area, the spot surrounded by beech, birch and sycamore trees. Each site had a distinct mix of items—palynomorphs– with complicated Latin names. The suspect didn’t deny that he had made contact with the victim so willingly gave up the clothing he’d been wearing at the time, and sure enough, all those little palynomorphs indicated that he had been in the woods and not on the lawn. This did not prove that he had committed the crime. It only proved that he had lied about the sequence of events, and that was sufficient to prompt a confession. Otherwise this case would have languished in an eternal hell of ‘he said vs. she said.’

Of course had this guy listened to legal counsel before he made a statement, he probably would have figured out to come up with an alternative, and innocent, reason to have been rolling on the ground near the crime scene, and all these spores would have been for naught. As it is, surely the defense will bring out statistics regarding the vast number of beech and sycamore trees in the area, perhaps in the suspect’s own neighborhood, and the idea that maybe he had been doing some gardening earlier in the week in that same pair of pants. This is why things like pollen analysis fell out of favor with the courts…but the spores are still out there, voluminous, distinct and quite concrete little buggers that will stick in all sorts of places one might wish they wouldn’t. So are hairs, fibers, and paint. Maybe ‘consistent with’ is all you can get out of them. But maybe, sometimes, that’s enough.

So in my books Maggie still looks at all this stuff because it’s more visible and visceral than yet one more DNA sample. Let’s face it—you’ve seen one cotton swab, you’ve seen them all. Bright clothing fibers are much more entertaining.

And this trace evidence will lead her down a number of roads—some of which, it turns out, she’d be better off avoiding.

Wiltshire et al. “A Rapid and Efficient Method for Evaluation of Suspect Testimony: Palynological Screening.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 60, #6, Nov 2015, pp 1441-1450.

 

L Black

Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

Lisa’s Website: http://www.lisa-black.com

 

that darkness cover

 

Hello! Just a quick note to let you know that my new book, That Darkness, is now available wherever books are sold!

It seemed like a typical week for crime scene specialist Maggie Gardiner–a gang boss shot in an alley, a lost girl draped over an ancient grave, a human trafficker dumped in the river–nothing all that out of the ordinary for the Cleveland police department as spring turns toward summer along the Erie banks. The methods are usual, the victims unsurprising–but when she notices a pattern, a tenuous similarity among the cases, she begins to realize that her days will never be typical again. How much of her life, her career, her friends, will she be willing to risk to do what’s right?

Jack Renner is a killer who does not kill for any of the conventional reasons…no mania, no personal demons. He simply wants to make the world a safer place. He doesn’t think of himself as a dangerous person–but he can’t let anyone stop him. Not even someone as well-meaning as Maggie Gardiner.

Maggie has the self-sufficiency of a born bit-of-a-loner. She works with a bevy of clever experts surrounded by armed police officers. She is both street smart and book smart, having seen the worst the city has to offer.

But Maggie Gardiner is not safe. And, until she can draw Jack Renner into the light, neither is anyone else.

Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter series, says: “Lisa Black always delivers authentic characters in riveting stories. That Darkness takes things to a spellbinding new level with a taut and haunting story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.”

Publisher’s Weekly says: “The intriguing forensic details help drive the plot to its satisfying conclusion.”

“Black is one of the best writers of the world of forensics, and her latest introduces Maggie Gardiner, who works for the Cleveland Police Department. Her relentless pursuit of answers in a dark world of violence is both inspiring and riveting. Readers who enjoy insight into a world from an expert in the field should look no further than Black. Although Cornwell is better known, Black deserves more attention for her skillful writing – and hopefully this will be her breakout book.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars (Top Pick)

 

Guest Blogger: Megan Inslee: My Love-Hate Relationship with Forensic DNA

dna_rgb

 

What is the most important point to keep in mind when working with forensic DNA evidence?  There are probably a lot of answers to that question, depending on your experience and perspective.  I’ll let you in on my opinion for now, as a former DNA forensic scientist. One of the imperatives of working forensic DNA cases in this modern age is this: accepting that there are cases (many, in fact) that DNA can’t resolve.

Almost every time I testify, I’m asked “why might you not find DNA?” This is a good question, one which I usually answer with a fairly long list of possibilities, but it all boils down to three main points. 1. DNA may not have been deposited in the first place. Does this mean that the incident didn’t happen as reported by the victim or witnesses? Not necessarily – more on that a bit later.   2. Maybe too little DNA was deposited for the lab to test and identify. But can’t you guys detect even a few cells? More on that, later, too.  Or, 3. Perhaps DNA was deposited at an adequate level, but much of it was washed away or degraded over time. I saw a special on cold cases solved by DNA decades later – I don’t believe there’s anything you can’t do. Well, keep reading.

1. DNA may not have been deposited in the first place.

We’ve become so accustomed to DNA evidence being presented in criminal justice cases that we seem to need to take a collective step back to reflect on a case in which it just isn’t there.  It really depends on the scenario and the knowns of the case what this lack of DNA on an evidence item could mean.

The murderer doesn’t always cut herself on the knife and leave drops of her blood at the scene. The burglar may have kept his gloves on throughout the entire crime, never touching anything with a bare hand.  A child molester doesn’t always leave semen evidence for us to test.

And, of course, DNA may not be present on a tested evidence item simply because the scenario didn’t unfold the way investigators believed or the witnesses stated or the victim recalled.  Corroborating DNA evidence with reported scenarios is a tricky business, one which doesn’t always result in a resolution tied up with a big red bow.

2. Maybe too little DNA was deposited for the lab to test and identify.

Remember the days when crime labs couldn’t get DNA from anything smaller than a blood drop the size of a quarter?  And remember when, even when they started getting DNA from smaller samples, the odds of someone else having the same DNA profile was only one in several thousand?  Well, I don’t – that was before my time.

But I was there for the early years of the current DNA typing technology, Short Tandem Repeats (STRs). Those were the days in which we tested mainly blood, semen, and saliva.  We had a good idea of what we could and couldn’t get results from and we ended up with a lot of single-source DNA profiles.  These result in straight forward comparisons to reference samples which yield either an exclusion, if the profiles don’t match, or a match.  In the case of a match, we calculate and issue some crazy-big statistic that illustrates to the reader (the investigator or attorney or juror) just how significant this match is (spoiler alert: the number is often in the quadrillions – matches are pretty darn significant).  And as great as this is and was, the criminal justice system wanted (and in many cases, needed) more.

Science over time, I’ve found, rarely disappoints.  The techniques and products that result from years of experimentation, trial and error, grant funding and academic research end up being a culmination of the best approach among many.

Instead of changing the sites we used for forensic DNA typing, researchers found that we could extract and clean up the DNA a little better and attain higher sensitivity.  They modified the primers and added a few more.  They improved the reagents that we used to get our profiles and made them a little more robust. They made instruments that could automate sample processing so that we could do more samples in less time.  All of this has led to higher throughput and more sensitive results.

Currently, scientists are not just attempting to get DNA profiles from well-defined body fluid stains, as before, but also from areas of evidence items that have tested faintly positive for a body fluid. They are swabbing areas of items that someone in the case may have touched.  These types of samples have much, much fewer cells than, say, a fat drop of blood.  And, while significant to the case and incident at hand, these samples are likely to contain not only very few cells, but mixtures of more than one person’s DNA, further complicating the analysis.

3. Perhaps DNA was deposited at an adequate level, but much of it was washed away or degraded over time. 

It’s important to remember that DNA is a molecule, one with millions of parts.  Cells must be intact in order to properly preserve the DNA.  And hundreds of cells must be present in a sample in order to obtain a decent profile for comparison. Wiping or washing a surface can remove cells. Environmental factors such as heat, UV light, or bacteria can break cells open, exposing DNA and ultimately breaking it down.

Also, it’s useful to know that the laboratory process, itself, is lengthy, requiring many phases, none of which perfectly preserve all of the DNA in the sample from one step to the next.  If I detect 200 cells in a sample in the lab, it doesn’t mean that 200 cells were originally deposited on the evidence item at the time of the crime.  Even in the best evidence-preservation scenario, there is loss of genetic material on the crime-scene-through-laboratory-testing journey.

In the end, as much as I love forensic DNA (and I hope you do, too), it’s important to keep its limitations in perspective in every case. The presence of DNA evidence does not prove guilt. The absence of DNA evidence does not prove innocence. The current state of forensic DNA technology is, however, amazing! I think we can all relish in that without abandoning our role as critical thinkers.

MInslee

Megan Inslee spent 13 years as a DNA forensic scientist in Washington State.  She has her Bachelor’s in Biology as well as her Master’s in the Genetics track of Laboratory Medicine from the University of Washington. She currently resides on an island outside of Seattle with her husband and three small children, writing technical documents, preparing grant proposals, and providing consultation on a freelance basis.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2016 in DNA, Guest Blogger, Uncategorized

 

Guest Blogger: Anne Trager of Le French Book Interviews Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Anne Trager of Le French Book translates novels from French to English. Her latest offering is an excellent book titled SHADOW RITUAL.

Shadow_Ritual_600-375
What’s it about?

Ritual murders. Ancient enemies. A powerful secret.

An electrifying thriller about the rise of extremism. Two slayings—one in Rome and one in Jerusalem—rekindle an ancient rivalry between modern-day secret societies for knowledge lost at the fall of the Third Reich. Detective Antoine Marcas unwillingly teams up with the strong-willed Jade Zewinski to chase Neo-Nazi assassins across Europe.

They must unravel an arcane Freemason mystery, sparked by information from newly revealed KGB files. Inspired from the true story of mysterious Freemason files thought to hold a terrible secret, stolen by the SS in 1940, recovered by the Red Army in 1945 and returned half a century later.

Here is her interview with authors Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne.

Q&A with Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne

Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne are the best-selling French authors of the Antoine Marcas mysteries, a ten-book series that has sold 2 million copies worldwide and is translated into 17 languages. These high-action thrillers combine meticulous historical research with unusual plots and a compellingly complex hero. The series is making its debut in the US with Shadow Ritual (http://www.shadowritual.com), an electrifying thriller about the rise of extremism. Giacometti is a former investigative journalist. Ravenne is a literary critic, a specialist on the life of the Marquis de Sade, and a Freemason.

Tell us something about your writing partnership.

We take about nine months to write a novel: one month for the outline, two months of research, and the six remaining months for writing. When we come up with the outline, we see each other nearly every day. We set up the plot, balancing narration and characters, weaving in suspense, planning the cliffhangers. When we go into the research phase, the work is very solitary, because we have already defined who does what. Then comes the longer, harder work of writing. The novels in the series after Shadow Ritual are built around two plot lines—one is set in modern day times with our protagonist, Inspector Antoine Marcas, while the other is historical. We each are responsible for one of the plot lines, but then we each rewrite what the other wrote. This requires a delicate touch, as writers are always very sensitive about their writing. Fortunately, we have known each other since we were teenagers, and we resolved our ego problems some time ago.

Your hero Antoine Marcas is in many ways a unique character. How did you develop his character? Does he contain any elements of your personalities?

As a Freemason he believes in Freemason values, but he has a realistic understanding of the brotherhood and its faults. This isn’t the Mason of popular imagination whose initiation gave him instant access to arcane knowledge. He’s a divorced cop who has problems with his ex-wife and who evolves in a realistic universe. But it’s a universe where occasionally a more esoteric reality appears. Marcas was born from our disagreements. Eric had a negative image of freemasonry marked by its scandals, while Jacques was fed up with reading reductionist articles about the brotherhood. Over the years—we have written ten novels in the Antoine Marcas series in French—Eric has become “Mason-friendly,” but he maintains a critical distance from its influences. Antoine Marcas is an ideal, principled Freemason. In Shadow Ritual he teams up with Jade, a secret service agent who detests the Brothers.

You also have some interesting evil-doers. Where did you come up with the idea of the Gardener?

We wanted a character that would embody an implacable killer, a professional sadist who looked like a nice guy to play with contrasts. The Gardener seems easygoing enough, but has a terrible habit of cutting off the toes of his victims with garden sheers. He collects the blood to feed his flowers. The idea for this killer came to me when I was shopping at a local nursery. One of the salespeople looked like a grandfather and was demonstrating a brand new pair of pocket pruners. He handled the tool with dexterity. As he twirled it in the air, producing a steady click-clacking, he joked about how the blades were so sharp they could cut off a finger just like that. Right then, I thought the fellow would make an excellent killer.

What inspired the story?

Shadow Ritual was inspired by a little-known episode that occurred when the Nazis occupied France between 1940 and 1944. In an operation that was prepared in advance in great detail and began the day the Germans entered Paris, specialized commandos pillaged the French Freemason headquarters, stealing most of their archives. The Nazis requisitioned two centuries of French masonic memory—from 1740 to 1940—and sent all the documents to Germany. Those archives, which Eric and I have explored, hold documents signed by the likes of Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. And for many, they must hold some Great Secret. A hidden secret our novel Shadow Ritual set out to find.

Giacometti and Ravenne share their research and inside knowledge with exclusive content. Learn 5 Freemason Facts and a lot more you never knew about secret societies and the world around us. Go here: http://www.Lefrenchbook.com/shadow-ritual-facts-fiction

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Guest Blogger, Writing

 

Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Scambaiting

scam money tree

The email showed up in my Inbox one morning with the subject line: I have a genuine proposal of great benefit to you. 

Yeah, that sounds totally genuine.

And thus I entered the exciting and dangerous world of scambaiting. Except it’s more tedious than exciting, and not too dangerous when the perpetrators sit on the other side of the planet and can’t afford air fare.

I hate scammers. I hate Rachael from Credit Card Services who calls twice a day (though sometimes she’s Bridget, and sometime Scott, and once in a while she’s Carmen) trying to get me to hand over my credit card numbers. I hate the emails that tell me I won a lottery I never entered in a country I’ve never been to. I am just waiting for some kid to call me pretending to be a grandson I don’t have, asking for bail money to get out of some totally bogus charge in Greece. And the fake Microsoft people are still trying to convince me that my computer is sending out error messages.

So I declared war.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Do Not Call lists, state or federal, do nothing. I continue to report each and every call to them in the hopes of making any charges they do someday press just that tiny bit more massive. The email scammers are almost always outside our borders, sending false phone numbers to your caller ID, and no one has time to track them down. Therefore, all you can do to strike a glancing blow for Cosmic Justice is: Waste their time. Every minute they spend sending you an email or sitting on the phone writing down fictitious credit card numbers is a minute they can’t spend scamming some poor soul who might actually fall for it.

scam person on phone

There are entire websites dedicated to people’s efforts to derail these scammers, and they are a font of good information and some great laughs. Following their advice I set up a new, free email account and instantly became Chloe, a pretty twenty-two year old, complete with a fetching photo from MS Office Clipart. (This wasn’t just wishful thinking—I thought her youth might explain her apparent naiveté in believing every story sent to her.) Chloe lives in a state I’ve never been to and works hard as a waitress at a Waffle House. I borrowed the phone number of Rachael from Credit Card Services, using the town it comes back to in a reverse lookup search—it doesn’t matter, since scammers won’t pay the long distance phone bill to actually call it. I invented a non-existent address on a real road with a real zip code.

scam you have mail

Then I started writing back. I copied the body only of the emails that came to my legitimate email address and responded—they send out too many at a time to notice one coming back from an address they didn’t contact. I told Ms. Liza Wong from Malaysia that I would be happy to help distribute the dead philanthropist’s money to those less fortunate, and MegaMillions winner Jim McCullen that I would accept the responsibility of disbursing his winnings. I wrote back to a helpful FBI agent in New York (though his IP address said Madagascar) who had found a package of 4.1 million dollars with my name on it (literally) and just needed me to fill out some forms to complete delivery. I found this so helpful of him. Who says the federal government is suspicious and obstructive and overly concerned with things like income tax payments?

A co-worker of mine drew the short straw and thus has been trained in the art of downloading computers to find stashes of child porn and other crimes. She has become my go-to person with tentative questions about How This Stuff Actually Works. Unfortunately whenever I ask her something she tends to burst into Swahili, throwing around terms like ‘data dump’ and ‘NTFS access’. I asked her about the IP addresses for the three emails above (the scambaiters’ site taught me how to find those), since the first two said they were in other countries but their IPs came back to the US and Canada. She said they can route through other people’s IPs. I always believed McGee on NCIS tracing an email that bounces through IPs all over the world to be Hollywood hyperbole, but it turns out to be somewhat accurate. My co-worker can’t do it, perhaps because my city can’t afford the cool flat-screens, but it can certainly be done. But, she said, they would need the cooperation of the host IPs. Aha, I said. Unless they hacked them, she said. Oh, I sighed.

I GoogleEarthed (you know what I mean) my three IPs and found that the US one sat on the edge of a closed Air Force base (yikes) and the other two bordered high schools. My co-worker said they were probably using the free wi-fi—the same reason you see cars in the Starbucks parking lot when the place isn’t even open.

scam check

Nothing all that exciting has happened yet. The FBI agent never wrote back about my box of cash. The other two put me in touch with their banker, who sent me a very professional looking email detailing how, since I live in neither England or Malaysia, I have to deposit a sum to open a ‘temporal account’ to which my large windfall can then be deposited. The UK bank wants $1200, and the Malaysian one a more reasonable $640. I pleaded poverty (it would take my 22-year-old months to save that from her Waffle House paychecks!) and put them in touch with my banker at my fictional savings & loan.  Chloe’s banker is an old family friend and looking out for the sweet girl’s interests, which is why he sent their bankers his own forms, which they must complete and return before they can be allowed to make a deposit at his fine institution. This will be difficult since the form demands to know things like your HBG number, which stands for “I Have No Idea, I Just Made It Up.” If they somehow work their way through this impossible task, then they may encounter further problems trying to fax it to another of Rachael from Card Services’ numbers.

Apparently both bankers found this daunting enough to give up on Miss Chloe, as neither she nor her bank manager have heard from them again. Jim McCullar gave up as well. Liza Wong hung in the longest with a forlorn, ‘have you heard from the bank, what’s going on?’ email.

I did have more success with today’s call from the persistent “Carmen” from “Credit Card Services.” They happened to call as I sat in front of my computer. Did you know you can Google “fake credit card number generator” and bring up a list of numbers for the major agencies? I kept a very polite representative on the phone for nearly fifteen minutes as she tried to ‘verify my balances’. I prepared to insist that, of course those are my correct credit card numbers, I’m looking right at them, but instead after a while she simply, quietly, failed to return from Hold.

But somewhere in the country, some other poor telephone owner got an extra ten minutes of peace this afternoon.

They’re welcome.

close to the bone 1

Close to the Bone hits forensic scientist Theresa MacLean where it hurts, bringing death and destruction to the one place where she should feel the most safe—the medical examiner’s office in Cleveland, Ohio, where she has worked for the past fifteen years of her life. Theresa returns in the wee hours after working a routine crime scene, only to find the body of one of her deskmen slowly cooling with the word “Confess” written in his blood. His partner is missing and presumed guilty, but Theresa isn’t so sure. The body count begins to rise but for once these victims aren’t strangers—they are Theresa’s friends and colleagues, and everyone in the building, herself included, has a place on the hit list.

Lisa photo

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida. Her books have been translated into six languages and one reached the NYT mass market bestseller’s list.

 
 
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