This was the last Bo Bradley mystery and it continues to haunt me, or its inspiration does. Legally, I can never say why, never tell the real story behind the fictional one. But surely I can safely say something. I really was a child abuse investigator, really did Bo’s job and lived on Tagamet the entire time. Any social worker can describe the rhinoceros-thick defensive skin social work entails, and the skin must be even thicker when the clients are children. (Or animals, except they don’t even get social workers.) My “skin” was about as defensive as wet tissue.
It isn’t necessary to describe the horrors that showed up on my desk in tidy manila folders. Everybody knows these things happen, although most would prefer not to know too much. I preferred not to know that much and after a few years quit my job to write novels and work as an advocate for people with psychiatric illnesses. Moonbird Boy was finished and during a break between speaking engagements I was in that mood where you read the whole Sunday New York Times cover to cover even though you don’t live anywhere near New York and don’t really understand half of it. The paper I read wasn’t the NYT but the local one. I read about tire sales and ribbon cuttings, somebody’s son in the military who got a medal, a knife fight outside a bar. And I read the obituaries.
I never read obituaries because they’re not interesting. They’re all the same. Everybody who died was beloved by everybody else and will be sorely missed. No stories there. But this time I plowed on through, actually puzzled at my own behavior. I won’t say that “something” told me to read the obits because it wasn’t like that. I just kept reading for no reason whatever. Reading every word. Including a brief, dry, obviously legal announcement. The kind of announcement government agencies are required by law to print, once, in a paper of record in the jurisdiction of the agency. No one is expected to read these. They are a formality. But I recognized the name, and felt an involuntary, sharp intake of breath.
It had been years since I handled that case, and the reality of what had happened after I closed that manila folder for the last time swirled in my head like a sandstorm. It couldn’t be! The name in the paper should have died long ago; but didn’t. Neither did it live. That name had merely existed in some limbo I suddenly imagined in the prose style of Stephen King. The prose style of horror, what else?
I started to write The Dollmaker’s Daughters immediately, that minute, wrote until I could put the image in words, Bo’s dream that begins the tale.
“The dream had been of a cold, windowless room filled with breathy clicking sounds. Mechanical sounds. Repetitive and devoid of meaning. And the room was some kind of trap, or prison, or place of exile filled with grief and anger and a terrible sense of waiting. It felt like a long-abandoned subway station where no train has come in years, although one more is expected. And that train will be the last, and will carry nothing alive.” (The Dollmaker’s Daughters, Chapter One)
The true story still haunts; the novel is the only closure it will ever have.