Down the Rabbit Hole of Research with Tracy Tonkinson

Today I have a guest post by mystery author Tracy Tonkinson. Tracy was a guest on It’s a Mystery Podcast in 2016 (you can hear our chat about Chicago history and the inspiration for her novels here) and I’m thrilled to have her back to talk about the research she does for her mystery novels. In today’s article, she explores the fascinating origins of cesarean section births. How does that subject intersect with mystery novels set in 1880s Chicago, you ask? Read on to find out. Take it away Tracy!

madmanI wrote my first Diamond & Doran mystery, Madman, because I found a half-forgotten detail of history so compelling it begged for its own story.

Researching Madman was so intoxicating I almost forgot that I was supposed to be writing a book. And therein lies the problem for the historical novelist. If you love history as I do, then rummaging around in old books, online directories and ancient filing cabinets is as close to heaven as it gets. But it can also lead to the hell of the eternal rabbit hole.

I cannot tell you how many times I have started researching for the name of a real person to use in a Diamond & Doran mystery only to uncover so many other fascinating facts that I find myself diverted into outlining books 1 through 10 of a series yet to be written, which all sounds fantastic until I realise I am now weeks behind on the book I should be writing.

Madman came to me because of a real bombing incident that happened in Haymarket Square, Chicago in May 1886. The true perpetrator was never caught, though 9 men were hanged for involvement in the riot that followed. That anonymous perpetrator was my inspiration for Diamond & Doran’s hunt through the mean streets of Chicago to track down the culprit. Along the way, they became a real team and a series was born.

PoisonBook 2 in the series, Poison came about because I researched a serial killer only caught in Chicago in 1893, even though it was clear he had been stalking victims for years. The details were so horrific I wondered how he could have escaped detection for so long, so I devised a plot in my book that enabled my villain to come and go at will, enticing his victims to go with him willingly, if unwittingly, to their deaths.

Book 3, Vendetta has just hit Amazon and the research for this book took me to a different place. This time I wanted to explore something that would have a dramatic effect on Doran and his whole family, including his partner Diamond.

We all love a good medical drama. In the 19th century, medicine was at an exciting intersection between what may seem to us barbaric and even comedic treatments for a variety of ailments, and real progress in medical procedures. In Vendetta I got the chance to explore some of this progress.

The delivery of babies had for centuries been practised for women by women. By the 1880s there were qualified obstetricians with special skills and understanding of the dangers and complications that come with childbirth. But within the medical profession these specialists in childbirth were often considered to be little more than ‘baby catchers’ and held in low regard by many of the doctors in general practise. ‘Baby catching’ was, after all, women’s work and what self respecting male doctor would involve himself in something so menial?

vendetta-tracy-tAt a time when a child and its mother’s mortality rate was staggering by today’s standards the answer, I discovered through my research, was that a surprising number of young doctors were drawn to the complex business of helping women bring to full term, and then deliver, healthy children. One of these men was Dr. William Jaggard. Jaggard was a real obstetrician practising in Chicago during the 1880’s. He was an expert in the practise of Caesarian operations, a procedure so dangerous that the likelihood was, even if the child was saved, the mother would die from shock caused by blood loss, or through infection introduced during the procedure.

While the success rate for Caesarian section today is virtually 100%, for which I for one am thankful as the mother of a child delivered by C section, even the skills of someone as dedicated as Dr. William Jaggard were sometimes not enough to save mother or child. But researching Jaggard’s difficulties, both in surgical terms and in terms of getting the respect his skills deserved as an expert in childbirth, was a fascinating rabbit hole to fall into and proved that the work he did is still by and large the method used in modern C section today, albeit in more sanitary conditions and with far better understanding of the risks involved in anesthetics and blood loss for mother and child.

My next Diamond & Doran mystery will no doubt lead me into researching areas that I never imagined would be useful to my story idea, but sometimes you fall upon something while you research that is so juicy you just have to find a way to include it in your story. And that’s the real excitement of research.

Until next time, here I go, back down the rabbit hole!

To download Tracy’s book, Madman, for free you can sign up at: http://www.diamondanddoranmysteries.com/
Poison is available at: http://authl.it/6hj
Vendetta is available at: http://authl.it/6hs
Like the Diamond & Doran Facebook page at: Facebook.com/DandDMysteries/

TracyTTracy Tonkinson was born and raised in England and now lives in Ontario, Canada. She is a fiction writer and avid reader of historical mystery fiction, thrillers and adventure novels. Her aim as a writer is to make her readers laugh a little, cry a little and feel breathless with excitement as they race to the end of each adventure she involves them in.