Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I'm in good company when I report that I like mysteries—presidents, attorneys, corporate magnates...all confess that reading mysteries is a form of relaxation for them. And those of us who're of the hoi polloi admit that we not only read a lot of this genre, we spend hours at week-end mystery marathons, now made possible by "streaming" entire mystery series that have appeared on public television stations.

I've written a few mysteries based in the South, and several years ago I fictionalized a true, unsolved murder that took place in Natchez, Mississippi. The book, Goatman Murder, was based on the macabre story of two aristocrats accused of murder who had fallen on hard times and lived in a decaying mansion with a passel of goats, next door to a bitter enemy murdered in her home one day in the 1930's.

We've visited Natchez many times and toured some of the old homes in the city, but we've never seen the home of the accused murderers who lived in Goat Castle as the dilapidated mansion was torn down years ago. A good friend of mine, who is adapting my mystery for a play, recently asked us to go on a mission to find the actual site of the Goat Castle. We've planned a jaunt to Natchez in early March, to revisit the sights in this historic city perched on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Natchez was once a center of wealth and leisure, a place of opulent mansions owned by cotton planters who entertained in grand style. Today, the city has, as Harnett T. Kane once wrote, "blossomed into a series of plantation museums without parallel in the South."

We look forward to the trip and perhaps I'll be inspired to write another mystery instead of spending time watching mystery marathons and re-reading Raymond Chandler, P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, George Simenon and other masterful mystery writers.

Here's a poem I wrote two years ago, questioning why we're drawn to murder mysteries. It appeared in my book, Post Cards From Diddy Wah Diddy:


A question at the breakfast table,
the obvious key difficult to explain,
this storytelling about dark haunts,
long shadows in doorways
and a trail of blood
leading to a woman in a red dress
lying in the mist.

What are we working out
in the black and white film,
climbing a steep stair
to a walk-up that holds
the results of momentary madness,
flies buzzing on the window sill?

Is it the recognition of our own survival instincts,
an innate violence we aren't supposed to harbor,
or another game of checkers
where we plot how to capture
the last black round on the board?

Or is it the heavy step of justice on the stair?
a voice announcing case closed,
last appeal denied, tragedy averted more monsters under the bed.

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