I began writing about the Mississippi Valley in January 2007. Since that time, I’ve worn out a car, hiked up a few dozen bluffs (and stumbled down a couple). I’ve canoed with the Quapaws into Baton Rouge and with Big Muddy Mike under a full moon. I’ve written three books and given a lot of talks at libraries and historical societies. Much of what I’ve done has been focused on encouraging people to travel along the Mississippi and give them some ideas of how to get to know the region better.
It’s been a great ride, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon. One thing, however, will be changing in a big way. I’ll be writing more fiction and less non-fiction from this point on. There are a lot of stories about the Mississippi Valley and many just aren’t well-suited for travel writing. Fiction not only gives me more creative space to tell the stories (i.e., I get to make shit up), but it might also be a better way to bring the stories of the Mississippi River to a wider audience.
I’ll be writing mysteries that put the people and places of the Mississippi Valley in starring roles. In some stories the Mississippi River will be front and center, while in others it will be a background character. It will always be present, though.
There are a few characters who will show up in each book, like Frank Dodge. You’ll get to know him pretty well. He’s a writer who travels along the Mississippi River in search of good stories (and who in no way resembles me). Dodge is a good guy, mostly. Sure, he’s cranky and cynical, and terminally restless; sometimes he’s a bit impulsive, too, but he has good intentions, mostly. He also has a knack for getting into trouble. Lucky for him, his childhood friend, Brian Jefferson, is much more level-headed and dependable. Unlike Dodge, Jefferson prefers a quiet orderliness to his life, even if he does sometimes get bored. Jefferson is a detective for the St. Louis Police Department, so that comes in handy when Frank gets into trouble, which he will, often.
In the first book, Rock Island Lines, Dodge, disgruntled and desperate for a story to write about, gets a hot tip: Miguel Ramirez could be one of the last surviving descendants of a brutal gangster named John Looney. Dodge sees this as a good story to sell, so he concocts a plan to meet the young man. When Ramirez is found floating in the Mississippi River, Dodge finds himself without a story and on the wrong side of a murder investigation. As Dodge and his buddy, homicide detective Brian Jefferson, go over the surprising events of the night Ramirez died, clues about the death of Ramirez will come from an unlikely source: the life of John Looney.
You can purchase Rock Island Lines through the usual retail outlets as either a soft cover book or an ebook. If you buy directly through my website, I’ll throw in a free copy of the Mississippi Valley Traveler’s Guide to the Quad Cities.
As I venture out in this new direction, I need your help. Would you consider posting a review of Rock Island Lines at on-line retailers like Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes and Noble? They don’t need to be flattering, but that would help. Tell your friends, too. I think a lot of people will be interested in Rock Island Lines: lovers of mysteries, organized crime fans, travel writers and other freelancers, and, of course, people interested in the Mississippi. I look forward to your comments and reviews.
In the second book, already in progress, a fire at a Dubuque convention exposes a bitter dispute between a local ice cream maker and a boutique chocolatier. Dodge and Jefferson manage to get in some trouble while partying on an excursion boat and paddling in the backwaters near Dubuque. In the middle of it all, Helen Kraft shows up, Dodge’s rival, who stirs up the waters with her take-no-prisoners approach to freelance writing. And there will be bodies, of course.
See you on the road.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2014