By DAVE MASON
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
Three thousand people, who were considered to be “heretics,” died in a massacre in 1545 in France.
Among them were 25 women and children who suffocated in a cave where they were trying to hide.
The real-life tragedy sets the stage for a new novel about two modern American couples and two French police detectives determined to uncover the truth.
That’s the story in “The Grottos of Barigoule” (Archway Publishing, 2019, $15.95), a book by retired UCSB history professor Frank Frost.
It is being sold at Chaucer’s Books on upper State Street, where Dr. Frost signed books Tuesday, and Tecolote Book Shop in Montecito. You’ll also find the book at www.amazon.com.
Dr. Frost, 90, told the News-Press he felt inspired to write the book after learning about the 1545 events that happened in Provence, the southeastern French region where he and his wife, Amanda Frost, have had a fall and spring home since 1999.
Barigoule is a fictional village, but Dr. Frost said the grottos are real and scary.
During an interview at his and his wife’s Santa Barbara home, Dr. Frost explained the real-life history in the book.
He said the massacred “heretics” were believers in the Valdois movement, which was started by Valdo, a rich merchant in Leon. “In church one day, he heard the citation from Matthew that said, ‘It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.’
“That inspired him,” Dr. Frost said. “He went on and sold his property and gave it to the poor, then organized people to go around preaching.
“They had only two precepts. One was a life of poverty as Jesus had preached, and the second was they believed only in the gospels,” he said.
“They had been accepted by the Catholic Church for over 300 years,” Dr. Frost said.
But the church became angered by the Valdois believers’ opposition to the doctrine that people should pay priests to get out of purgatory.
That sets the background for Dr. Frost’s modern thriller about two middle-class American couples who are more or less retired. They learn about the 1545 massacre and decide to investigate further.
“They’re normal, educated people, and they’re trying to find out about the sources of evil in their own village (in France),” Dr. Frost said.
One couple consists of novelist Michael and his wife, retired reporter Rosalind. The other couple is investor Spencer and his Canadian wife, Nicole.
The couples get help from Inspector Dreyfus, a Jewish French police detective, and his Muslim partner Abdelaziz, a woman who’s a deadly shot with a pistol.
The couples and the police detectives face a modern conspiracy to cover up the facts related to the 1545 massacre, Dr. Frost said. He noted people try to help the couples with their investigation are murdered.
Eventually, the novel builds to a big chase, he said.
“I like the characters,” Dr. Frost said.
He said he trusts his characters to guide him in his novels and short stories.
“You create strong characters. You let them do what they might have done,” Dr. Frost said. “Sometimes they surprise you by what they do.
“Get your plot. Get your characters. Let them go,” he said.
“When I get the idea for a plot, I don’t outline the whole thing to the end. I have a general idea of where I’m going,” Dr. Frost said.
The author is a Washington, D.C., native who served as a private first class in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. In 1953, he moved to Santa Barbara and earned his bachelor’s in history in 1955 at UCSB. He earned his doctorate in ancient history in 1961 at UCLA.
Afterward, he taught at UC Riverside and Hunter College in New York City before becoming the ancient history professor in 1965 at UCSB.
He retired from UCSB in 1990, but kept an office there as he finished research.
“They recalled me to teach a Greek history course. My last course was in 2000,” Dr. Frost said.
He also worked as an archaeologist in Greece, Italy and Turkey. And he is a pianist who has performed in bars, clubs and hotels such as the Four Seasons Biltmore Santa Barbara.
Dr. Frost was a successful writer of history books, including “Greek History,” when he decided to become a novelist in the late 1990s. It seemed a natural transition to him.
“I like telling stories,” Dr. Frost said. “When I started teaching, I would tell stories instead of lecturing. I always got good evaluations from the students because they liked the stories. They wanted to know what happened at the end of the story.”
His wife, Amanda Frost, also a retired UCSB history professor who worked as an editor for University of California Press and other scholarly presses, told the News-Press her husband was a good teacher.
“He kept getting better and then he quit!” she said with a smile.
They were married in 1976.
Dr. Frost’s first published novel was “The Dead Philadelphians” (1999), in which Danny Castle angers the mob by intercepting payoff money to crooked politicians.
His other novels include “The Succession,” which starts with the assassination of a U.S. president, and “Bay of Breakers,” which is about five characters planning to run in the famous San Francisco road race.
Dr. Frost remains a successful author at age 90 and credits good genes for his health today.
“One of the secrets is when I was 38, I quit smoking,” said Dr. Frost, who served as a Santa Barbara County supervisor in the 1970s.
Dr. Frost said the last thing he wrote was his autobiography, which he doesn’t plan to publish. Instead, he plans to send that book as a computer file to his and his wife’s son and daughter, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.