Readers and reviewers often mention the amount of research that goes into my books, and how they enjoy the history and prehistory woven into the story. This is satisfying because I spend a lot of time researching the setting, archaeology, and suspense elements for each book. But I also have a shortcut when it comes to researching archaeology and setting: my husband. 

Dave has a master’s degree in nautical archaeology and is an archaeologist for the US Navy. Prior to that he worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers, and before that he worked for the Underwater Archaeology Branch of Naval History and Heritage Command. If UAB and NHHC sounds familiar to you, it’s because several of my heroines in the Evidence Series work at NHHC. In fact, the storyline for Covert Evidence was inspired by a file cabinet he came across when he worked at UAB.

Tinderbox, which releases on Valentine’s Day, was also inspired by my husband’s job. In 2014, Dave made his first trip to Djibouti to work on an archaeological survey for the Department of Defense. Prior to this, I’d only vaguely heard of Djibouti, but when you write romantic thrillers in which archaeology, politics, and war collide, and your husband is sent to the Horn of Africa by the US military to do archaeology, it’s pretty much a gold mine for story ideas. I waited until he came back from that first trip before plotting Tinderbox, because I couldn’t let my imagination run wild with things that could go wrong prior to his safe return. This is one of the pitfalls of writing suspense.

Djibouti lies eleven degrees north of the equator and borders Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia (really Somaliland, a self-declared state internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia). The country is home to Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent US military base on the continent of Africa.

Dave returned from Djibouti with hundreds of photos, stories, and some very dirty field gear. He was also allowed to bring back a very special rock, which I showed to Dabney when we met at RWA in San Diego last summer. The stone tool was made about a million years ago by a hominin, (either Homo heidelbergensis, Homo ergaster, or Homo habilis). To see a picture of the tool and read more about it check out my interview with Dabney.

I’ve presented workshops to authors about how to accurately depict archaeology in fiction, and the first point I always make is that archaeologists do not keep artifacts, so I need to make it clear that the stone tool belongs to Djibouti. It will be included with the collection when all the artifacts that are currently being analyzed by archaeologists at William and Mary are returned to the country. Dave was allowed to bring it home to be used as a teaching tool. It’s a pretty amazing thing to be able to hold in your hand an object that was made by a living creature a million years ago. I never expected to be able to do such and thing and I love being able to share the experience with others.

Dave is one of very few professional archaeologists to work in Djibouti. The list grows as the DoD fulfills its obligation to the Djiboutian government by documenting cultural resources that have the potential to be affected by US military activity.

If you want to know more about Djibouti, this article provides a great overview of how the US base came to be and why so many countries are trying to establish a military presence on the Horn of Africa. Many of the details described in the article are touched upon in Tinderbox.

I’m currently working on the second book in the Flashpoint series, which is set in Djibouti and South Sudan. In choosing South Sudan, this is the first time I’m writing about a setting that neither my husband nor I have visited. Now that I’m diving into the research I’m remembering why I borrow from his work experience so much. Starting from scratch is hard! My family is planning a trip to the Caribbean later this year, and I’ve done archaeological fieldwork in Sint Maarten, so odds are there will be an Evidence book set in the Caribbean at some point. I’ve always wanted to write a book set in Cuba…but I won’t plot the suspense until after we’ve all safely returned from our vacation.

When written by women, thrillers with foreign settings are hard to sell to traditional publishers. As a reader, do you like foreign settings?


Rachel has put together a fun giveaway for one lucky AAR reader. Make a comment below to be in the drawing for:

1) Deck of cards given to US troops in 2007 to educate on the need to protect cultural resources in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cards are mentioned in Concrete Evidence and there is more information on my website.
2) Djibouti T-Shirt
3) “Have a Djiboutiful Day” coin

Next from Rachel Grant:

In the volatile tinderbox of the Horn of Africa, Morgan Adler has made the paleoanthropological find of a lifetime. The discovery brings her to the attention of a warlord eager to claim both Morgan and the fossils, forcing her to make a desperate dash to the nearby US military base to beg for protection.

Master Sergeant Pax Blanchard has orders to intercept Dr. Adler before she reaches the base, and in so doing saves her life. After a harrowing afternoon he safely delivers her to his commanders, only to find his responsibilities toward protecting the obstinate archaeologist have only just begun.

Morgan and Pax are forced to work together in the Djiboutian desert heat, but it is the fire that ignites between them that threatens to combust them both. For the Green Beret, involvement with the woman he must protect is a threat to his career, while for the archaeologist, the soldier is everything she never wanted but somehow can’t resist. When Morgan uncovers a mystery surrounding Djibouti’s most scarce and vital resource, the danger to her reaches the flashpoint. For Pax, protecting her is no longer a matter of following orders, and he’ll risk everything to bring her back alive.

Tinderbox releases on Valentine’s Day in digital, print, and audiobook.

Listen to the first chapter of the Tinderbox audiobook here: