posted July 25, 2007

Children’s Mystery Leads to Underground Railroad

A mystery leads to history in the children's book "The Secret of the Lonely Grave" by Dr. Albert Bell Jr. of the Hope College faculty.

The story centers on two 11-year-old friends, Steve and Kendra, when they notice that someone has taken an interest in the long-neglected grave of a young girl who died in the 1860s. Their investigation leads them not only to discover her story, but to lessons on the Civil War, slavery and the Underground Railroad.

"MyShelf.com" describes the book, which is being released at the beginning of August, as "an entertaining mystery that even adults could enjoy. It has some memorable characters, as well as lessons about why hatred and bigotry are wrong... while they learn, kids are treated to a great can't-put-it-down mystery."

Although the story is fictional, its setting in southern Kentucky is real. It was inspired by Bell's visits to see his wife's family in the area, and a tombstone that he had noticed set off by itself while walking through an old cemetery.

"I began to wonder why somebody would be buried apart from the others that way," he writes. "That was the beginning of this story."

Weaving history into the story was a natural approach for Bell, who is a professor of history at Hope, where he has taught since 1978. Excerpts he includes from a period diary are literally true, even though adapted to the fictional situation. "Some of those were taken from a diary written by a member of my wife's family right after the Civil War," he writes.

Bell is the author of five works of fiction, most of which draw extensively on his academic background. His mystery novel "All Roads Lead to Murder" is set in the first century A.D. and features the historical figure Pliny the Younger as his sleuth; his mystery "Kill Her Again" involves an archaeological dig in modern-day Italy; and his historical novel "Daughter of Lazarus" is set in first-century Rome. His books also include the mystery "Death Goes Dutch," set in present-day Grand Rapids, and the autobiographical "Perfect Game, Imperfect Lives: A Memoir Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Don Larsen's Perfect Game," which reflects on the 1956 World Series.

His scholarly work includes the book "A Guide to the New Testament World," which reviews the social, political and cultural background against which the New Testament was written, and a number of articles.

Bell has been a member of the Hope faculty since 1978. He holds a bachelor's degree from Carson Newman College, a master's from Duke University, a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Seminary and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina.

"The Secret of the Lonely Grave" is being published by Claystone Books, an imprint of Ingalls Publishing Group Inc. of Boone, N.C., and will be available in paperback for $8.95. Copies will be available at the college's Hope-Geneva Bookstore or at any bookstore or online book dealer.