On the eve of the annual Moonshiner Days festival, first-grade teacher Jennifer Wagner is found with a meat thermometer sticking out of her neck. A year later, police in her small Kentucky town are no closer to solving her murder. As the town prepares to welcome thousands of guests to another Moonshiner Days, reporter and amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan begins to wonder if Jennifer’s killer has ties to the festival. With the sounds of backfiring jalopies and bluegrass music filling the air, Maggie pokes around Jennifer’s life, exposing deep, dark secrets. Just as she inches closer to solving the challenging case, another crime is committed, a murder suspect ends up in jail, and Maggie is forced to deal with a personal crisis.
My cozy mystery, “Murder at Catfish Corner,” begins with the discovery of a woman floating in a pay lake. For those of you unfamiliar with the term “pay lake,” it’s a stocked lake at which you pay to fish. Pretty straightforward, right?
As it turns out, one of my best friends had never heard of a pay lake, and she suggested I remove the reference to it from the book blurb. Although she argued that alluding to a pay lake would confuse potential readers, I kept it in there.
I must admit, her professed ignorance surprised me. After all, my research had located pay lakes as far north as Michigan and as far south as Alabama. Of course, she lives in Maryland, so maybe I should have investigated points east as well.
Anyway, the idea to construct a mystery around a pay lake came to me during a discussion about local landmarks. When the conversation veered to the subject of a pay lake, I envisioned a body floating face-first in the water. At that point, I knew I had the makings of my next mystery and a morbid mind. Okay, I’ve been aware of my morbid mind for decades.
Utilizing a pay lake also allowed me to revisit the antagonistic relationship between two characters in the series: Tyler, the young reporter who never misses an opportunity to make fun of Eastern Kentucky, and Joe, the newspaper editor who never misses an opportunity to put Tyler in his place.
When Tyler derisively refers to Catfish Corner as a glorified pond and belittles residents for paying to fish on private land when the area’s ample creek banks would serve the same purpose, Joe informs him that pay lakes do not exist only in Eastern Kentucky.
Besides, fishing on a creek bank might not yield anything bigger than a minnow. (Pronounced locally as minner.) But a pay lake offers the promise of a significant catch of the day.
I had not heard of legendary east Tennessee moonshiner Popcorn Sutton until I happened upon “The Last One,” a 2008 Sucker Punch Pictures documentary depicting Popcorn’s last run, but I immediately recognized Popcorn as a man who could have been some of my kinfolk or at least a neighbor. Dressed in bibbed overalls, a brightly colored checkered shirt and a fedora, he reminded me of the old man who lived up the holler from my family when I was a little girl. Sporting an unkempt beard and staring out at the world with sunken eyes, he called to mind those familiar faces from the old Hatfield and McCoy photos I’ve seen my entire life. Continue reading