Here are my TOP TEN REASONS for writing The Mountains Bow Down.
Researching a novel—particularly a mystery, particularly a forensic mystery, particularly a forensic geology mystery—creates such an enigmatic trail that the path doesn’t resemble anything except Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole.
So I can’t say how I stumbled across benitoite, only that once this beautiful blue gem crossed my screen, I couldn’t not write about it.
Benitoite is state gemstone of California, yet so rare that some professional geologists have never heard of it. I keep waiting for benitoite to pop up on the game show Jeopardy! “Alex, I’ll take More Precious than Diamonds for $1000.”
First discovered in 1907, benitoite was named by a gemologist who pinpointed its origin to the headwaters of California’s San Benito River. (You can read the interesting history of its discovery, a story which offers its own intrigues—see what I mean about research?). To this day, that small portion of California is still the only place on the entire planet where gem-quality benitoite’s ever been found.
And when it’s gemstone-quality, benitoite can sell for as much as $1000 per carat. But it gets better. Benitoite occurs in two even more rare forms: a five-pointed star, and a six-pointed “star of David.” Yes, it looks exactly like a star of David, as if carved by hand.
Only about twenty-four star samples have been found, although last year somebody (weirdly, related to Keith Carradine of “Grasshopper” fame—see what I mean about research?) found a five-pointed star, setting off an international sensation.
If you’re ever in central California, be sure to stop by one of the mines that allow visitors to hunt for benitoite. During my research, I spoke with the nice folks at Whimsy Mine. There’s also Capistrano Mining Company. If you can’t get to California, some of these mines will ship you local gravel which you can mine in the comfort of your home. Find some benitoite, and you might score enough to pay that bill several times over.
I won’t offer any spoilers, but suffice to say, beautiful blue benitoite played a starring role in The Mountains Bow Down, thus making it my #9 reason for writing this Raleigh Harmon mystery.
He looked into the drink again, then downed the rest of it. “That’s all you need to know about my wife. The woman was a real saint.”
“Did the saint leave a suicide note?”
I wasn’t his buddy. I wasn’t interested in his charm. And somebody killed his wife.
After a moment, he shook his head, indicating she left no note, and I pulled the plastic bag from my pocket. With the room’s intense illumination, the blue gems glowed like tiny gas flames. Hypnotic pilot-light jewels. “Did this bracelet belong to your wife?”