Muletrain to Maggody

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although the 1863 skirmish at Cotter’s Ridge only involved a handful of Confederate and Union soldiers, a grant given to the Stump County Historical Society draws an amazingly quirky group of people to Maggody to take part in filming a documentary reenactment of the fight. Among the visitors to Police Chief Arly Hanks’s sleepy little town are Mrs. Corrine Valenthorpe Dawk, a Charleston, South Carolina, writer of historical romances and Simon, her lazy playboy son and Sweetpea Yarborough, his southern belle fiancée, who all figure prominently in the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a growing number of Maggody locals.

As Muletrain to Maggody gets in full gear, and rumors of Confederate gold hidden in a cave on Cotter’s Ridge circulate among townspeople and visitors, problems arise: several old people disappear; connections between visitors and the murky slave-holding plantation past of Maggody emerge; and strange things start to happen on Cotter’s Ridge. Soon retired accountant and Stump County Historical Society’s genealogist, Wendell Streek, turns up dead at the bottom of a Cotter’s Ridge cliff, and elderly Maggody eccentric Hospiss Buchanon is found bludgeoned to death. It falls to Chief Hanks to discover the connections. As unlikely as it first appears, some of Maggody’s visitors do have their sinister reasons for wanting these two people dead, reasons that have nothing to do with the missing Confederate gold.

With her usual tongue-in-cheek humor, Joan Hess again treats her readers to a parody of the small town, back-water New Old South, complete with families so interrelated that even a genealogist has difficulty separating the bloodlines. Readers familiar with the Maggody series, will find in Muletrain to Maggody the usual cast of characters: Jim Bob and Barbara Buchanon, the philandering mayor and his straight-laced wife; Brother Verner, a conscience-tortured evangelical minister; and Chief Arly Hanks, whose mother, Ruby Bee, runs the local bar and motel. If this is a reader’s first visit to Maggody, they will be guaranteed a cast of well- drawn comic characters and an interesting, well-crafted plot.