B.B. Oak is the pseudonym for the writing duo Ben and Beth Oak. Connecticut natives, they met at Boston University and have been together ever since. Besides the enjoyment they find in each other, the pair of writers has an affinity for Henry David Thoreau. It is this kinship and respect, as well as a love of mystery that inspired the Oaks to create a unique, though very real, role for the iconic Walden Pond resident.
In Beth and Ben’s debut novel, “Thoreau at Devil’s Perch,” Thoreau adopts a Sherlock Holmes style of investigating as the storied author and poet seeks to identify the killer of a young black man he found at the bottom of a rocky crag called Devil’s Perch. Told through the voices of Thoreau’s partners in this investigation, displaced lovers Julia Bell and Dr. Adam Walker, the Oaks draw upon Thoreau’s own documented words, passions and survival skills to create a scenario so believable, many will agree that Thoreau could have rivaled the greatest detectives of the time had he chosen that pursuit.
The Oaks go to great detail to remain true to the era, and the end results are carefully crafted settings, such as the woodlands, town streets and businesses, and even a den of ill-repute. Historical fans will find little to raise a brow at. Thoreau fans will discover a character much like the man himself who speaks in his time-tested manner that has kept readers enthralled for centuries. Mystery fans will have their powers of observation tested against that of Thoreau, the American version of Holmes. And, of course, if Thoreau is Holmes, then star-crossed lovers and narrators Adam and Julia are Watson.
“Thoreau at Devil’s Perch” has something for everyone. Most of all, it contains a very enjoyable, well-written story utilizing uncommon characters that will create fans for books to come. And, yes, the next tale in the series is on the horizon.
DA Kentner: Placing Thoreau in any role other than “expected” could have been a literary death knell. But you pull it off. What gave you the self-confidence to turn Thoreau into a man determined to solve a murder others scoff at?
Ben Oak: Thoreau’s own self-confidence inspired us. He never gave a hang about what others expected of him. It was Thoreau, after all, who coined the phrase about marching to the sound of your own drummer. Like all great gumshoes, he was a loner with his own sense of honor and justice.
Beth Oak: And he was a master of observation and deduction, as his journals demonstrate. So, we simply portrayed him as he was in life, a natural born detective devoted to seeking out the truth and fighting injustices.
DK: Julia and Adam are risky characters – cousins in love. Why create an atmosphere of forbidden romance for them in a story already rife with intrigue?
Ben Oak: We wanted the mystery to unfold from both a male and female perspective because men and women lived in separate spheres at that time. And to make it all the more interesting, we decided to have the two characters telling the story develop a strong sexual attraction for each other as the mystery unfolds.
Beth Oak: It’s not just a sexual attraction. Julia and Adam have loved each other since they were children. Their love might even go back centuries. They could well be soul mates that have lived past lives together. This ties in with Thoreau’s open-mindedness to the possibility of reincarnation.
DA: Even Sherlock Holmes grew and changed as a character. Will readers see Thoreau grow as well in future books, and if so, what areas do you see as potential areas for change?
Beth Oak: Thoreau is only 29 when the first book opens, filled with expectations and wide open to change.
Ben Oak: As in real life, he’ll become less a loner when he leaves Walden Pond. He’ll form very close relationships with others.
Beth Oak: Especially with Mrs. Emerson. In our second book, Thoreau is living with Lidian while Ralph Waldo travels in Europe.
Ben Oak: Thoreau has a lot of trials and disappointments ahead of him, but he’ll always remain purposeful and principled. We intend to stay true to the basic elements of the real Thoreau’s character, which we find inspiring.
Beth Oak: And we hope to show him as he really was, a vital young man full of joy and warmth and love.
DK: Any parting comments for readers?
Ben Oak: The sort of historical mysteries I want to read are well-researched, have fascinating characters that reflect the era, and are filled with rousing action and unexpected plot twists. Weren’t those the criteria we used when we wrote our book?
Beth Oak: Yes, but it’s up to the readers, not us, to declare if we met them. My only parting comment for them is that I hope they enjoy reading “Thoreau at Devil’s Perch” as much as we enjoyed writing it.