Monday, May 19, 2014

Yankee Doodle Dead Ball

Judith Arnold

If you’ve studied American history, you’ve heard of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In the centuries since those battles took place, another battle has simmered between Lexington and Concord over which
town can lay claim to the “shot heard ’round the world”—the first shot actually fired in the American Revolution. Lexington partisans claim that first shot was fired by the British soldiers on the Lexington Town Green. Concord partisans argue that what happened in Lexington was a massacre, not really a battle, because the colonial settlers did not fire back. According to this argument, the “shot heard ’round the world” was one fired by a member of the colonial militia at the Old North Bridge in Concord. The American Revolution began nearly 240 years ago, and the two towns have been fighting over which town can boast of being the “birthplace of American liberty” for almost as long.

I mention this because I live in a town very near Concord and Lexington, a town which played such a pivotal role in the American Revolution that when postal zip codes were being assigned in the 1960’s, my town won the coveted zip code “01776,” beating out both Lexington and Concord for that honor. So when I decided to set my new mystery, Dead Ball, in a small town west of Boston, I wanted to make the setting a town as fiercely devoted to its colonial heritage as the towns in this part of Massachusetts truly are.

(I wish I could say that the fictional town of Rockford, where Dead Ball takes place, was named after a great Revolutionary War hero, but the truth is, I named the town after Jim Rockford, the detective portrayed by James Garner in “The Rockford Files.” Jim Rockford is one of my heroes, even if his heroics don’t date back to the American Revolution.)

My editors loved the idea of setting Dead Ball in a colonial-era Massachusetts town, and they urged me to play up the Yankee Doodle Dandy setting as much as possible. In mystery series, the location is nearly as important as the plot. The plot might be the pretzel, but the location is the coating of salt crystals that give the pretzel its flavor.

So I salted the fictional town of Rockford with plenty of colonial references. The park where Lainie Lovett, Dead Ball’s sleuthing heroine, plays soccer is named Minuteman Field, and her rec-department team is dubbed the Colonielles. The main road through Rockford is Liberty Road, and the Mexican restaurant where Lainie and her friends retire for margaritas after their soccer practices is the Olde Towne Olé. (The French restaurant in town is the Partie de Thé, which is French for “Tea Party,” a nod to the Boston Tea Party.)The murder victim is found in a subdivision called Emerson Village.

I had a lot of fun creating Rockford, with its patriotic Revolutionary War spirit. Dead Ball is a murder mystery, but it’s also a comedy with gentle notes of satire. We proud citizens of colonial New England can laugh at ourselves even as we’re waving our flags and cheering the fife-and-drum corps who march in our town’s Fourth-of-July parades and perform at our Colonial musters every autumn.

The mystery Lainie solves belongs in Rockford. Lainie meets with the man who might become her next lover—or who might be the murderer—at the real Walden Pond, which is just a few miles from my house. We don’t take Walden Pond for granted in these parts, but we accept that our nation’s resplendent history coexists quite nicely with its present in this part of Massachusetts—and in the world of Dead Ball.

When Judith Arnold’s family moved to Massachusetts twenty-five years ago, her husband contemplated joining the town’s militia, which reenacts the Battle of Concord every year on Patriots Day. If he did that, he thought, Judith could be his “camp wench.” Much as she loves him, she decided she did not wish to be a wench, colonial or otherwise.

Judith's current release, Dead Ball, has hit the Amazon Kindle bestseller lists. Along with the Kindle edition, Dead Ball is also available in a print edition at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, in a Nook edition, and at Kobo. You can visit her web site to learn about her independently published romances. For more information about her upcoming titles, discounts and deals, please sign up for her newsletter.


  1. Loved this post, Judith! Not only because it was so interesting and well said, but because I wonder if your fictional Rockford is anywhere near my fictional Surrey, which also happens to be west of Boston! I do think we live in a geographical goldmine as far as setting is concerned! By the way, your new book sounds most intriguing!!

    1. I'll bet Rockford's and Surrey's high school football teams are fierce rivals.

  2. Great post, Judith - congratulations on hitting the Kindle bestseller lists!

  3. I love the zip code. Love it.

    I lived in Massachusetts a long time ago and had forgotten all about the Lexington/Concord thing. I worked at a TV station back then and this 'battle' came up for some reason. You make me want to go back and investigate the old videotapes I have somewhere.

    Great post on setting. You're making me nostalgic for the northeast.

    1. Sylvie, I'm glad you got to live here for a while, at least. I love New England!

  4. Wonderful post! I visited Concord in 1976 as an English teenager and I've never forgotten that trip. Love that part of the world…