Why I’ll never write a murder mystery set in a small town

My publisher at Write Words, Inc. (Cambridge Books) has been kind enough to write a guest blog for my blog columns.    

by Arline Chase

I am delighted  to learn about the forthcoming sequel to The Sand Bluff Murders.

am bit disappointed to learn that Jonas is moving to the city, though.  I live in one of those quiet little country towns like St. Mary Meade, but on the agricultural Eastern Shore of Maryland, just across Chesapeake Bay from the Great Baltimore/Washinton Urban Sprawl.  We are the county seat, have a pop of 11,000 in a county that admits to 28,000 residents yet has the largest land area in the  state. Our county is roughly 19 times the size of Rhode Island, though it’s mostly marsh, mosquitoes and muskrats.

Many folks think nothing goes on in small towns, but believe me, folks can be just as greedy,  dishonest, murderous, and venal here as anywhere. The only difference is that you usually know who they are, even before they are arrested.

I worked five years for The Daily Banner newspaper  (with a then county-wide circulation of 24,000). Cops and courts was my beat. In that time I covered 7 homicides, 19 cases of child sexual abuse (three defendants were cops, one was a teacher, and two were pastors of well-attended protestant churches). A dozen or so, plead guilty on my day off, so I don’t know exactly who they were, though I heard later one was a fellow my mother had tried to pair me up with when I was in junior high school. Guess he never got over liking girls in 7th grade.

Truly there is no dearth of crime in a small place.

Author Helen Chappell worked in an adjoining county, but for the same paper, except she was Editor of the Weekly in the next county. We had a lot of fun in the old days, telling each other home truths about various sitting judges, but our lips are sealed…at least mine are. Helen got a good series out of her experiences though: Slow Dancing with the Angel of Death; Dead Duck; A Fright of Ghosts,  etc. Her heroine, news reporter Hollis Ball, is assisted in crime-fighting by the ghost of her ex-husband, Sam. See Helen has it covered. If people say she wrote something bad about someone “real” she can always point to Sam and ask if they believe in him, too?

I’m just not that smart. I do remember some of the crimes that happened back then — though names and details escape me now (20 years later), so everyone can relax.

There was the Great Bank Robbery in Vienna (a tiny village at the edge of the county) where the perp took a taxi to the bank and had him wait outside while he did business inside, and then act as a getaway car…  The taxi took him home to his grandma’s house and it only took the Sheriff’s Dept. a couple of days to find him.

There was another bank robbery (That one in Helen’s County) where some fellows wearing Celebrity Halloween Masks robbed the bank on Tilghman’s Island.  The bridge tender, Miss Mable (not her real name) raised the drawbridge when she saw the getaway car coming.  There were, of course, no police on the island, so she notified the “Fish Cops” (MD. Dept. of Natural Resources, Marine Police) by radio. They came and took them into custody, until the Sheriff could get there.

Really though, I think my favorite story was the day Miss Hortense Wongus (Not her real name, either) was waiting to be arraigned on shoplifting charges, with the Woolworth’s mgr giving her evil looks from three rows back. Miss Hortense wore a tasteful orange jumpsuit with a wide-brimmed black lace picture hat, decorated with white gardenias. When court recessed, Miss Hortense strolled downtown to Woolworth’s and helped herself to a new nightie, some Yardley soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and deodorant, then reentered with the others,  seating herself primly on the front row with all the other orange jumpsuit-clad miscreants.

As her case was called and the Woolworth’s mgr sworn in, ready to testify, another clerk from the store ran in, followed by a panting patrolman, who grabbed Miss Hortense by the elbow and read her her rights, while the Judge vainly pounded for order.

After all the hubub died and the judge found Miss Hortense guilty and gave her 60 days, he asked her why she would go shoplifting while she waiting for trial. “Well your honor, you can’t expect me to go to jail without NOthing! I’m gonna need this stuff! Have you ever smelled the soap they gives you in there?” she howled.

 Yep, small towns can be fun. So can murder mysteries by Write Words, Inc., Authors Helen Chappell and C. M. Albrecht!




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