Mattie Combs may regret the day she quit her job as sheriff of poorer, problem-plagued Slocum County for the top cop position in the more affluent, but equally trouble-riddled Clement County next door. One reason Clement’s Sheriff’s Department has newer, better-equipped Ford 150s, and additional deputies, is to protect Appalachsquatches discovered in 2014 living on Black Bear Mountain.
The Department, along with Wildlife Management officers, had managed to keep curiosity seekers and poachers at bay — until now. Alarmingly, an Appalachsquatch was just found murdered and select body parts removed — all on federally protected land no less. Now, the other squatches have gone into hiding.
So begins Enchanted to a Stone, the latest release in the eight-book saga set in the fictional Clement County in southeast Kentucky. Populated with law breakers, political schemers, feuding Indian tribes, and some supernatural elements, Clement County exists only in the minds of Quinn MacHollister, the five writers, and their faithful followers. MacHollister is actually the pen name of current and former Eastern Kentucky University professors: Charlie Sweet, Hal Blythe, Mason Smith, Marie Mitchell, and the late Rick Givan.
Sweet and Blythe, former Co-Directors of EKU’s Teaching & Learning Center, have been writing partners for more than 30 years, collaborating on everything from novellas for mystery magazines to articles for academic journals. Fans of hard-boiled detective fiction and western heroes, they write the grittier characters — the noble sheriff, the gallant spies, and the gutsy private eye.
“Years of writing the lead novella for Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine and noir mysteries for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine honed our style,” Blythe and Sweet said.
Smith, a senior lecturer in EKU’s English Department, and Mitchell, a communication instructor, prefer crafting the quirkier characters. In this novel, the couple brings back the bumbling but lovable Joey Jeter, masterminded by Givan in the first novel. Joey started out as an incompetent courier for his drug-dealing cousin. In Enchanted, he is conducting shady business deals along with his girlfriend Crystal Dee-Lite, who is on the wrestling circuit.
“He’s like the jinx, Joe Btfsplk, in the Li’l Abner comic series who unwittingly creates chaos wherever he goes,” Smith said.
“But, despite being the catalyst for many of Clement County’s problems, somehow Joey always comes out ahead,” Mitchell added.
Tiny Clement County is facing even more upheaval in the latest novel. Liberal Tilghman College has invited a controversial conservative commentator to be the commencement speaker in May. Despite death threats, the commentator, Martha Washington accepts the invitation — mainly to pursue her own dangerous agenda.
“Frank Bowie, who divides his time among being a private eye, novelist of detective fiction, and college professor, is hired to protect Washington,” Blythe says. “But he also gets caught up in humoring alcoholic college President Savannah South and being supportive of his live-in lover’s pet project, ResQ, to help recovering drug addicts.”
“We’ve tried something new by putting Bowie’s chapters in the first person, giving the impression that you’re in a novel he’s writing as his detective Francisco Dagger,” Sweet says.
“As college professors ourselves, we often poke fun at academicians,” Smith says, “so we have some rabble rousers who want to stop Martha Washington from speaking. They’ve formed Progressives United to Save Society, or P.U.S.S. Obviously, they didn’t think that one through.”
“There are plenty of other characters running amok,” Mitchell says. “We’ve staged a murder, a legal drama, a revenge vendetta, another corrupt corporation, and lots of lonely hearts.”
The only difficulty the writers had in collaborating on this novel is spotting some continuity issues in editing. “Sometimes we have a character in two places at once,” Sweet says. “Or the same body is found outdoors in one chapter and indoors in another. We also struggle with the weather. One chapter might hint at a storm coming, but the next one only hours later turns out to be a sunny day. Fortunately, all of these problems can easily be fixed.”
Enchanted to a Stone can be ordered through Amazon, as can the other seven books in the Clement County saga. They’re also available on Kindle. You can keep track of future Quinn MacHollister novels by following the writers on Facebook.