Researching Black Water
Creating an imaginary world generally involves some research, and Black Water was no exception. Pat Tierney, its protagonist, is a financial advisor and I am not, although my work as a business journalist has given me a working knowledge of her business world. I interview financial advisors and investment managers for my articles, and I attend their conferences. I know the issues they face and the concerns they have.
So it wasn’t too far of a stretch to create a character in the investment world. In fact, when I was looking for a central character for my mystery series, Pat appeared full-blown in my mind. She has the traits of the people I admire most in the industry. She cares for her clients. She’s a champion of small investors. She has sleepless nights when markets are down.But I don’t know the investment world as an insider does. Questions sometimes arise, and I have to call on the experts for help. That’s what makes the Pat Tierney books fun to write—I’m always learning something new.
In Black Water, investment fraud is one of many the crimes taking place in the seemingly idyllic Glencoe Highlands. Money has recently been disappearing from investors’ accounts. (Remember Bernie Madoff, the real-life fraudster who made off with a staggering $18 billion of his clients’ money?) To write about this kind of scheme, I needed to find out how such a thing could be done. It’s a delicate subject, and I wasn’t about to ask my contacts in the financial world how this can be done. They might think I was setting myself up as a fraud artist.
I’d heard about how computer hackers track keystrokes, and that got me thinking. I Googled the word “keystroke,” and came across “keystroke logging”—there’s even a Wikipedia page on it—the action of recording the keys struck on a keyboard. And I discovered there are dandy little devices available to do this. They look something like the memory sticks I keep drafts of my novels on. You connect them somewhere out of sight between the keyboard and the computer, and voilà! They log all keyboard activity—PINs, social security numbers, passwords, you name it—which can then be used for all sorts of nefarious purposes.
Other types of research went into the making of Black Water. The story takes place in the month of March when the lakes in Ontario cottage country are usually still frozen. But if spring comes early and the ice starts to break up exposing deadly black water, this means an end of snowmobile season for most enthusiasts of the sport. But intrepid snowmobilers have come up a way to extend the season—the sport of snowmobile skipping. This involves driving a snowmobile across a stretch of open water by approaching it at a very high speed. The machine skips over the water in much the same way as a stone does when it’s skipped over water.
You guessed it. There’s snowmobile skipping in Black Water. Did I give it a whirl as research for the novel? No siree. If a machine doesn’t make it over open water, it sinks like a rock. A bath in frigid black water? No thank you very much. I limited my research to watching snowmobile skipping competitions and talking to participants. (My journalism interviewing skills came in handy here.) And even that was a chilly business on some days. I learned that there is nothing some people won’t do for thrills.
Rosemary McCracken has worked on newspapers across Canada as a reporter, arts reviewer, editorial writer and editor. She is now a Toronto-based fiction writer and freelance journalist. Her first mystery novel, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010 and published by Imajin Books in 2012. You can buy it here.
Black Water, the second book in the Pat Tierney series, has just been released at the special introductory price of .99! You can buy it here.
To win a $50 Amazon gift certificate, enter the Black Water giveaway contest here. Deadline is June 15.