The Ghost Of Craven Snuggs: A Midwestern Murder Mystery | Sandy Moffett | 9781948509398 | 202p
A satirical novel with a severe critique of the destruction caused by modern corporate agriculture and large-scale meat production.
Early one November, portraits of the Chief Executives of three major midwestern meat-producing corporations and the governor of Iowa go missing. These incidents seem minor until the dead bodies of the three CEOs are discovered in the hog lots and chicken factories that they own. The governor remains alive but terrified. He immediately orders the state department of criminal investigation to drop all other duties to protect him. The job of investigating the thefts and murders falls to the small, understaffed, sheriff’s department. Initial suspects—a disgruntled young biology professor who has resigned to protest the state university’s support of large-scale meat production, the widows of the deceased who seem a bit too delighted to be rid of their husbands, and an 80-year-old army
veteran who is valiantly fighting the proliferation of CAFOs in her township. The sheriff and his deputies are left with a single clue: an ancient pickup truck that belonged to Craven Snuggs, a fierce opponent of large-scale industrial agriculture, who died in a mysterious fire years earlier. The investigation takes a makeshift posse through the woods, prairies, and crop fields of Nachawinga County.
“The Ghost of Craven Snuggs is a compelling, cinematic novel that understands that mind-boggling weirdness often goes hand-in-hand with ‘Midwestern nice.’ In the tradition of greats like Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, Moffett combines his love of a place with a keen eye for the strange and the beautiful, bringing us a cast of unforgettable characters who don’t mind causing a little chaos as they navigate the complicated relationships, communities, and landscapes that sustain them.”–Dean Bakopoulos, author of Summerlong
“Well, what do we have here? A murder mystery that is also a ghost story; a rural homily with real-world eco concerns. We find characters: an environmental crusader in a pig suit falling in love; a triad of trophy wives delighted to be shet of their rapacious husbands, all of whom die in circumstances whimsical and grisly at once. Of course, we have foolish politicians. We see a lovely pastoral landscape threatened by the stink and slop of corporate meat production. In short, we have a story—a tale, a yarn! We have a lot!”—Jon Kelly Yenser, author, The News as Usual and Walking Uphill At Noon
“Who wouldn’t love a mystery in which the governor’s portrait goes missing and a bottle of Viagra fails to do its trick? Someone sneaky might very well replace your ED drug with an anti-inflammatory. Talk about the blues! Murder abounds in this laugh-out-loud novel, which tears into the business—the big business—of destroying Iowa’s environment. Sandy Moffett writes like H.L Mencken in a cornfield.”—Ralph James Savarese, author, See It Feelingly and Someone Falls Overboard and When This Is Over
Book Description: Early one November, portraits of the Chief Executives of three major midwestern meat-producing corporations and the governor of Iowa go missing. These incidents seem relatively minor—until the dead bodies of the three CEOs are discovered in the hog lots and chicken factories that they own. The governor remains alive but terrified. He immediately orders the state department of criminal investigation to drop all other duties to protect him. The job of investigating the thefts and murders falls to the small, understaffed, sheriff’s department. Initial suspects—a disgruntled young biology professor who has resigned to protest the state university’s support of large-scale meat production, the widows of the deceased who seem a bit too delighted to be rid of their husbands, and an 80-year-old army veteran who is valiantly fighting the proliferation of CAFOs in her township—quickly produce alibis. The sheriff and his deputies are left with a single clue: an ancient pickup truck that belonged to Craven Snuggs, a fierce opponent of large-scale industrial agriculture, who died in a mysterious farm fire years earlier. The strange investigation takes a makeshift posse through the woods, prairies, and crop fields of Nachawinga County before bringing their case to its illogical conclusion.
Even More Praise:
“You’re in for a pungent treat of a read with The Ghost of Craven Snuggs. With pitiable, adorable, and deplorable characters that pop off the page, Moffett creates a fantastical riddle of a story that socks you square in the funny bone one minute but blooms into a painful bruise the next. Craven Snuggs’ll stick with you, sitting achingly close to home as it exposes the tragedies of Iowa’s rampant confined-animal meat farm—big ag practices that are so environmentally destructive and so inhumane we keep wondering why policymakers are still looking the other way. Despite the sobering subject matter, Moffett spices his Midwestern mystery with humor, sass, compassion, and candor—along with wintry mists of the supernatural, a shimmering reverence for the vestiges of true Iowan beauty, and even the addicting heat of forbidden love. Sure, it’s a cliché to say, ‘There’s something in it for everyone!’ But there is. Now, if we could just get our elected officials—and the industry—to absorb the message and see the big picture, we might stand a chance at our own happy ending.”–Meredith Siemsen, Associate Editor, The Iowa Source
“Part ghost story, part trophy wives’ revenge fantasy, and part eco-warrior tall tale, Sandy Moffett’s The Ghost of Craven Snuggs is a joy ride of a read. This Midwestern whodunit pits a ragtag army of geriatric pig farmers, hapless sheriffs, and dreamy academics against the deep pockets and abundant manure of corporate agriculture. Deliciously written, Craven Snuggs gets dished up with wry humor by an author who clearly knows his way around the fields of Iowa, including the best places to bury the bodies.”—Todd London, Author, If You See Him, Let Me Know
“In this fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek thriller, Moffett has given us a timely indictment of Big Agra that is also a rollicking yarn. It’s a rare accomplishment: an urgently fun read.”—Bryan Crockett, Author, Love’s Alchemy: A John Donne Mystery
“I can’t decide what Sandy Moffett’s book ought to be called. A murder mystery? A diatribe against agribusiness’s cavalier treatment of the natural world? A blistering comedic send-up of heartless corporate culture? Whatever you call it, you should put The Ghost of Craven Snugs on your ‘must read’ list. You’ll never look at bacon the same again.”–Mark Baechtel, Editor, Rootstalk: A Prairie Journal of Culture, Science and the Arts
“The Ghost of Craven Snuggs by Sandy Moffett is a delightful amalgamation of satirical crime fiction, political and societal commentary, and fairy tale phantasm. Though strictly entertaining, at its core it is an enlightening, educational exposition of the large-scale degradation of the environment and political corruption that is taking place in the world today (in this case, in Moffett’s beloved state of Iowa) jeopardizing the existence of human society, plant and animal habitats, rivers, streams, and the very air we breathe. The story is playfully alive and an easy read, filled with intriguing characters and vividly theatrical scenes. This is fun stuff … but not for one moment does it lose sight of the very serious matter it is tackling: the ravaging of our precious environment by big business and political corruption, and the desperate moral effort and will that is needed to put a stop to it.”
— Isabelle Kralj, Monologuist, Co-Director Theatre Gigante, Milwaukee
Sandy Moffett, Emeritus Professor of Theatre at Grinnell College, joined the faculty in 1971 and continues to teach and direct plays on occasion, serving as a utility infielder for his department. An ardent outdoorsman and conservationist, he spends most of his time restoring prairie on his small farm, writing songs and stories, playing guitar and mandolin in The Too Many String Band, and catering to the whims of his three grandchildren. His writing has appeared in The Wapsipinicon Almanac, Rootstalk, Saltwater Sportsman, and other publications. This is his first novel.
And, finally, one long endorsement/review:
With “The Ghost of Craven Snuggs”, Sandy Moffett has written a rollicking, witty, tender, spooky, who-done-it thriller. Set in the rolling hills of Iowa, Moffett’s adopted and beloved state, the novel opens at a gallop with a cascade of fascinating characters, local history and lore, and a deep dive into the dark waters of Big Agriculture. The who-done-it comes in when three top corporate executives are murdered in the most grisly ways. (Don’t ask!) The novel also features a good helping of Moffett’s pungent asides, a pair of star-crossed lovers, and Moffett’s encyclopedic knowledge of the land he loves and the depredations it endures under the corporate yoke.
Much of the action takes place in the rural, one-stoplight town of Tripoli in fictional Nachawinga County (Moffett is a veritable Dickens for indelible names: Nelda Womble, Donald Birdseed, Cletus Grundler) as responsibility for cracking the case falls to the County Sheriff and his staff of lovable local oddballs. With a wonderful eye for telling details, Moffett gets the reader close to his characters and landscapes. Much like William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha, which is mentioned in the novel, Moffett is intimate with every inch of Nachawinga and the people who have lived and still live on that land. The two authors also share the same knack for turning tragedy into comedy and comedy into tragedy. Either way, your tears compete with your guffaws.
“The Ghost of Craven Snuggs” also bears much of the same magical atmosphere as Jerzy Kosinski’s “Being There”. After all, there is a ghost in the title, and many supernatural things occur including the appearance and disappearance of an old green rusty International Harvester pickup truck that leaves no tracks in the ever-present snow. But the magical properties run deeper than that, they are embedded in the language itself, and in the way, Moffett construes the circumstances of each scene.
Moffett also has a marvelous ear for dialogue and is a good hand at the crisp quip. Such as, “As soon as they got word of the bodies, the Department of Criminal Investigation was all over Nachawinga County like ants on a picnic donut.” He shows his open heart for tender moments in a lovely turn when Shawn and Amie, the star-crossed lovers, meet at Shawn’s cabin deep in the woods. They have spent the past four years madly yearning for each other but are too frightened to act. Finally, unhugged, unkissed Amie drives away in a raging blizzard. Moffett renders this moment of heartache with an unforgettable image. “Shawn watches the car long after the taillights’ red eyes are closed in the twilight by the falling snow.”
“The Ghost of Craven Snugg” is gripping, and readers will be tempted to speed their way through it. But please resist. There is much to be savored at a slower pace. You might even be taken for a ride in a rusty, green, International Harvester pickup truck.
—Joe Feldman, Playwright, Director, Albuquerque