Thursday, September 19, 2013

Novel digs for lawmakers' buried treasure

Tuesday, 17 September 2013
by Raymond Rendleman

Dell Isham, a Happy Valley resident and former state senator, released his fourth book last month.

The 411-page historical novel, “Knights of Gold,” is the tale of two Oregon legislators who discover clues to the buried Confederate treasury. They follow the evidence to South Carolina, where the Knights of the Golden Circle have been protecting it since the end of the Civil War.

Knights of the Golden Circle, an actual organization before and during the Civil War, is thought to have died out shortly after the war, but Isham proposes in his novel that they may still exist as an underground organization. His story takes the reader from Oregon, to South Carolina, Florida, Grand Cayman Island resorts and jungles in the interior of Brazil.

“The reader of this novel will not only enjoy a treasure-hunting story but also learn about plots, bargaining and back-stabbing common within any legislative body,” Isham said. “One character admits to an unforgivable error of judgment: trusting another politician. There are many courtroom dramas but few legislative dramas. This book is the rare latter category.”

Real-life inspiration

Isham learned of the myth of the lost Confederate gold while living in South Carolina for nearly a dozen years and did “a lot of historical research on lost treasures in preparation for writing this book.”

His publisher, Outskirts Press, notes that Isham’s education and experience prepared him to write the historical and political thriller. Isham has history degrees from Weber State (Utah) College and Colorado State University. He has 30 years of political experience — as a Democratic Oregon state senator (two years as Senate majority leader), 13 years as a lobbyist, and 10 years as the director of the South Carolina Sierra Club. He was the winner of the 2009 South Carolina Fiction Project.

Isham said one of the most enjoyable parts of writing the novel was basing many of the characters in the book on personalities of politicians he worked with in the early 1980s. He represented Lincoln and Tillamook counties in the Oregon Legislature from 1977-85.

“Like most authors, characters are not usually pulled from thin air, but from experiences lived,” he said. “Many who gravitate to public office have unusual personalities, and suitable for novels. ... Some found their way into this book, but guessing who they might be (or were, since many are no longer alive) is part of the fun of reading the book. Of course, most are exaggerations of reality, just like any story.”

As an impetus for his novel, Isham draws from an incident in 1981, when Senate President Fred Heard (D-Deschutes) was arrested for using a false name for a motel room in Klamath County. To make matters worse, he registered using the name of State Sen. Jack Ripper (D-North Bend). Most senators were upset with the circumstance during a time when possible homosexuality was even less tolerated, and Isham thinks Heard’s actions contributed to the decline of the Democratic Party during the 1980s.

We never learned of Heard’s real motivations, but could it have been that he had a lead on lost Confederate gold? Isham’s latest book offers a possible, albeit unlikely, hypothesis.

Isham’s other books include “Isom Dart and an Assortment of Scoundrels” and “Goodbye Vietnam: Love, War and Espionage in Vietnam.” all of which he’s written since he retired from political life four years ago.

“One thing I’ve noticed, my writing is getting better with each book,” he said. “Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?”