B.B. Oak (the husband-and-wife team of Ben and Beth Oak) showcases the transcendentalist philosopher’s crime-solving skills in Thoreau on Wolf Hill, the second book in the series.
When did your interest in Thoreau start?
Ben: Beth and I have shared an interest in Thoreau since college days, but for different reasons. I was more interested in his observations about nature than his philosophy, and I found his ironic humor, contrary attitude, and independent spirit very appealing. Thoreau wrote Walden in his 20s and people that age really “get” him. He’s that age in our mystery series, bursting with vitality and eager to take on the world.
Beth: For me, it was Thoreau’s spirituality that sparked my interest in him. He had a surprisingly modern concept of God as a universal energy that could be found in the natural world. He meditated, studied Eastern philosophy, and made a point of living in the present moment.
What led to the idea of a series of mystery novels featuring him?
Beth: It began with the desire to write a mystery series that took place in antebellum New England. We thought it would be interesting to contrast the outwardly peaceful countryside and villages with turbulent emotions, repressed desires, and bloody murder. And the image of Thoreau finding a body on one of his nature walks was irresistible. If anybody would be determined to discover the murderer, it would be Henry.
Ben: He seemed the obvious choice. Like all the best detectives in fiction, from Sherlock Holmes to Philip Marlowe to Parker’s Spencer and Lee Child’s Reacher, Thoreau was a self-reliant loner with his own code of honor and his own sense of justice. After all, it was Thoreau who coined the phrase about marching to the sound of your own drummer.
How easy was it to have him display Sherlockian deductive skills?
Ben: Thoreau used his observational and deductive skills every day of his life, so it was fairly easy. As he famously said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” He devoted himself to investigating the world around him and that’s why we thought he would make such a natural detective.
Beth: In fact, Sherlock Holmes himself quotes Thoreau in regard to circumstantial evidence in “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor.” Like Holmes, Thoreau carried a magnifying glass in his pocket. Or rather, Holmes carried one like Thoreau. I’ve read that Sherlock Holmes was based on Poe’s Inspector Dupin and Doyle’s university professor, Dr. Joseph Bell. But maybe he was also based on Henry David Thoreau, the supreme master of observation and deduction.