Photo Courtesy of RD Hathaway

In “Secret Passages,” an alienated, small city newspaper reporter named Rennie Haran is given an assignment to investigate why a local college professor of archeology died while on sabbatical at the British Museum 90 years ago.

Wanting “fresh dirt,” she is initially frustrated with the seemingly ancient assignment, but her mood changes as she learns of the young professor, his tragic lost love and then his new love. Along the way on her search for the truth, she finds that he discovered the most precious of all antiquities before he was murdered. Rennie becomes passionate about life and people as she becomes a confident, whole person and solves the mysteries.

“Would you do me a favor, Matthias, before you must leave? It is a bit embarrassing, but with Arthur the way he is, I must call on you, as a friend.”

“Of course.”

“To be quite frank, I need your help with the buttons on the back of this dress. The styles are so tight, and the buttons are small and remote. There are many I simply cannot reach.”

“Certainly, I understand. It’s not as though I haven’t had to help before. I often helped Hope. Just turn a little.”

With careful precision, Matthias slowly applied his thick fingertips to the tiny buttons, pushing them through the little slits in the material.

As he did so, Priscilla reached up to remove the combs holding her hair in place. It fell in soft, brown waves upon his hands. She turned her head, meeting his eyes over her shoulder.

As the back of the dress spread open, Matthias’ hands stopped. He couldn’t move.

“Matthias,” she whispered, “will you also help with the strings?”

Enclosing her back, Matthias observed the tightly strung, white corset. The upper edge pressed into her flesh. Slowly, his fingers pulled the end of one cord. He watched it slide through the tied bow and suddenly release its pressure. With both hands he carefully drew the strings apart, allowing the corset to open and reveal her back.

Priscilla sighed.

He loosened more strings from their bonds, further releasing and separating the garment.

In one smooth motion, Priscilla reached up to her shoulders and slowly drew down the top of the dress so it fell into her lap.

“Secret Passages” by RD Hathaway

The mystery-thriller was written by Phoenix resident RD Hathaway. Having lived in a number of major cities across the country and traveled to several other continents, Hathaway has also been an active volunteer and supporter of nonprofit organizations across the nation. When not writing, he enjoys ballroom and modern dancing and is a strong supporter of Ballet Arizona and Arizona Opera. Hathaway also enjoys desert and mountain hiking as well as sharing laughs and ideas with friends.

Images Arizona caught up with Hathaway — who recently drove the length of Portugal — to ask the author a few questions about “Secret Passages,” the penultimate selection in its summer book club.

From where did you receive your inspiration for this book?
I’ve always been fascinated with people, history, religions and other cultures. Along the way, particular questions bothered me with “why didn’t” and “what if?” One day, while driving for many hours to give a presentation, an idea formed to answer a key question. Characters arose and they took over, resulting in this exciting story.

Aside from that initial inspiration, were there any other experiences from your life that played a part in the setting, characters or trajectory of the plot?
I’ve been to major cities across Europe, the Near East and South America, and I particularly enjoyed the museums. In Egypt, I saw the artifacts from the tomb of King Tut at the Cairo Museum. In the Valley of the Kings, I went down into his tomb and those of other pharaohs. To access one of my favorite sites at Saqqara, I had to shuffle down a long shaft from near the top of a pyramid to reach the king’s tomb. While in Egypt, I thought about the stories of the ancient Hebrew people and early Christians and how Egypt held so many connections with them.

As a writer, I’ve admired the work of journalists, how they can quickly pursue facts on complex issues, and then write concise, powerful stories on deadline. Stories of love are timeless, and this one needed a young woman who is an alienated journalist, who had rejected love, and went on to pursue a love story involving the ancient history of Egypt and was changed by it!

What themes did you aspire to tackle with this particular work? Did any other themes reveal themselves to you during the writing process?
Some readers regard this book as Christian fiction because of an ancient connection with Jesus (via Egypt). My focus was on the protagonist, Rennie Haran, and her dramatic evolution from hating to loving others and the profound peace she found. What choices do people make and how do those affect them and others?

Several important themes were revealed to me as I wrote this book. One is the vast depth of life that lies beneath the surface in each person. We see someone and think we know them, and they think they know themselves. But with just a little inquiry, a world of joys, pain, sorrow and hope will begin to appear. It all has meaning one can barely understand but can learn from.

Another theme I came to appreciate is how history unfolds in each person’s life and leads to new generations. Looking back in time and even seeing each other reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul, “Through a glass darkly.” We can see but not well. So, a little extra caring is needed to understand others and ourselves.

The last theme revealed to me is that we think we know of great historical events, but all we know is what someone wrote at the time or even much later, and what others opined of those writings. So, history is the documentation of impressions of events, and new revelations might suddenly arise to change everything!

What or how are you hoping your book makes readers feel? What other takeaways do you hope they have?
I tend to write with attention to detail in the feelings, sounds, smells and sights of locations and characters, and I hope readers sense those things and delight in them. I also want readers to get a taste of the goodness that love and caring relationships can do for their lives if they allow those good things to happen.

What are some of your own takeaways? Specifically, did your characters teach you anything?
Some people see me as a risk taker, but I was very surprised to find the protagonist, Rennie Haran, revealing herself to be profoundly daring, far more than I could be. Her character is an alienated young woman who accepted challenges requiring her to build relationships, be vulnerable, and risk life and career for an abstract ideal, and she pursued her quest to a glorious conclusion. When I wrote the end of the last sentence in the book I exclaimed, “She did it!”

“Secret Passages” was published in 2020 and is currently available by order from bookstores as well as on Amazon.