Most of our guests, on Murder is Everywhere, set their stories outside of the United States.
And one could make a case that Sandy Parshall does as well. Sandy's stories take place on the outer edge of Appalachia, which as she herself says, "has always been a separate world within the larger American culture."
In 2007, Sandy won the Agatha Award for the first-best mystery with her debut novel, Heat of the Moon. In 2008, she was nominated for the Benjamin Franklin Award for Disturbing the Dead. Publisher's Weekly called her third Rachel Goddard mystery "excellent". And now Sandy has brought Rachel back, once again.
The fifth in the series, Bleeding Through, was launched just last week. According to Kirkus, it combines nerve wracking suspense with a twisty mystery. That's Kirkus folks, the toughest reviewers in the business. No writer can ask for more.
Leighton - Monday
What comes to mind when you hear the word
You’re not alone if a string of stereotypes runs through your head. Poverty. Illiteracy. Moonshiners. Guns and coon hounds. Snake-handling churches. Meth-heads and oxy addicts.
You can find all that in central
In some ways, the southern mountains
resemble a third world country plopped down in the middle of modern
civilization. But if you look beyond the stereotypes, you’ll find people who
aren’t very different from the rest of us, struggling with problems that seem
beyond their control.
I grew up in a working-poor family on the outer edge of
Appalachia, a few miles from the Smokies where my Scottish
forebears lived and where my grandfather, Sam Grant, was a smalltown police
chief a hundred years ago. You’ll hear a lot of Scottish names in the mountains
because most of the early settlers, who began arriving in the 18th
century, were Scots-Irish and lowland Scots.
They had no idea they were building homes atop a fortune in coal, and that the presence of the black mineral would eventually bring the ruination of their land and way of life.
Isolated on the ridges and in valleys and hollows, the Scots settlers were an insular people, preserving the culture they’d brought with them. Their traditional music and dance endured through generations, and remain virtually unchanged today.
Their speech persists in the Appalachian dialect, which also bears the influences of rural English, Welsh, and German. Mainstream
aspects of mountain culture charming. The snake-handling churches still found
in a few places and the widespread drug addiction are less appealing and are
seen as proof of the hill people’s backwardness. America
I was young, naïve and eager to see new places when I left my first job on my hometown newspaper to move to
. Over several years I worked
on the Welch Daily News, the Beckley Post-Herald, and the Charleston Gazette. I
got used to the coal dust that covered everything in mining communities, tap water
with a peculiar odor and color, monstrous coal tipples looming over roads, smoldering
slag heaps, the trucks and rail cars that rumbled past, shedding coal dust
behind them. I never got used to the desperate poverty I saw everywhere, along
rutted roads and in remote hollows and little townships, contrasting with the
glorious beauty of the soaring, tree-covered peaks. West Virginia
I arrived in the mountains soon after President Johnson declared War on Poverty.
Instead of taciturn mountaineers who resisted change, I saw a legion of low income people who eagerly joined a movement that promised to improve their lives. Resistance came from local government officials who saw the antipoverty program as a threat to their authority. We all know which side won that war, but I can’t forget the willingness of ordinary people to take on what was ultimately a hopeless fight.
In natural resources,
is the richest part of the . Why, then, are so many of its people
mired in poverty? Because the mining companies own most of the land in coal
country. If they don’t own a piece of land, they probably own the mineral
rights, purchased a century ago for a paltry amount from people too
unsophisticated to worry about a vital clause in the contract: the companies can
use any means necessary to extract the coal. If that means destroying the surface
that people live on, so be it. United
|Typical mountaintop removal mine site, photo courtesy of The Sierra Club|
Today a nightmare is playing out in central
mountaintop removal mining – strip mining on steroids. With deep
underground coal seams nearing exhaustion, companies trying to get at what
remains have turned to an extraction method that uses less manpower. Massive
explosions blow open the tops of mountains, releasing toxic chemicals and heavy
metals, filling the air for miles around with dust and raining large rocks on
nearby houses. Tons of soil, rock, and trees are scraped into surrounding
valleys, burying wildlife habitat, streams, family cemeteries, and homes. So
far almost 600 mountains have been leveled, and thousands of miles of valleys
and waterways have been buried or poisoned.
|Toxic runoff from mining site, photo by Eric Loftis|
The water coming from residential taps is often too polluted to drink. Cancer and birth defects have increased sharply in populations around mine sites. On an environmental group’s blog recently, a West Virginian posted in the comments: “Please help us. We are dying here.”
The struggle underway now in
WVA, is a reminder of what’s at stake. Home to the fabulous white water rapids
of the New River Gorge, Fayette County has found a
lucrative replacement for the played out underground mines: tourism. Its trails,
mountains, and clean waterways now bring in millions of dollars for businesses
and local government. Fayette
|New River Gorge, photo by “Emmybear”/|
But all that is threatened. A mining company based in Mumbai, India, operates a mountaintop mine in the county, and the company plans to double the mine’s size to
3,300 acres. It is seeking permits to dump
toxic waste into valleys and waterways around the New River Gorge. Such permission
is routinely granted elsewhere. Approval of the
permits will mean the beginning of the end for a beautiful place and its
booming tourism industry. Fayette County
Why is this happening? Because energy companies need the coal. When you flip a light switch or turn on your TV, you’re probably using electricity generated by coal from mountaintop mines. So far, Congress and the EPA, the governments of mining states, and the courts have sided with the companies against citizens trying to stop the devastation.
Experts estimate that all the Appalachian coal will be gone in twenty years. The mining companies will move on, leaving behind land they have rendered uninhabitable. Sometimes it seems that only the hill people care, and their strength and pride shows in the protest marches, petitions and letter-writing campaigns, lawsuits, appeals to legislators – and to the world outside the mountains.
|Recent protest in |
Whether they live deep in
or in the gentle Blue Ridge like the
characters in my books, mountain people are just like you and me. They love
their families, they watch television, they go to movies and high school games
and listen to popular music. They use computers, and they are rallying
supporters via the internet. Appalachia has
produced outstanding writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers. Not everybody
is poor and uneducated. But those in the mining counties are caught in
circumstances over which they have little control. They can’t salvage what’s
left of the mountains they love passionately without some help from the
Think about that the next time you flip a light switch.