Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Fiction: Lucrative Regional Detective Story Market To Be Exploited

I have an update on the big Junker story for you, but that will have to wait. I have mouths to feed back here at the Prendergast ranch, and I think I've finally come up with a way to tap in to all that "big money" that's always being thrown around in the old writing game.

As you may or may not know, there is a huge market for regional or historical detective stories--that is, there is a whole genre of detective fiction out there that sells by the millions because the authors have put a local or historical slant on their writing, thus"spicing up" the traditional mystery story with fascinating cultural details. This kind of stuff goes over big with mystery fans; that's why you see series about about medieval English monks who solve crimes, Wisconsin dairy farmer detectives who solve crimes, ancient Egyptian cat fanciers who solve crimes, et cetera, et cetera.

I know it sounds stupid but there's a goddam fortune in it, don't ask me why. Anyway, I was down in the Louisana bayou this weekend (that's why I haven't been working on the blog) and I discovered this whole new culture that's just begging to be exploited in a new mystery genre. These people call themselves "Cajuns"--actually, the word for their ethnicity is "Acadian", but they are unable to pronounce that word properly because of inbreeding or something, I don't know. These people are the descendants of French-speaking Canadians who were evicted by the British about two hundred years ago for non-payment of rent. They finally settled down here in the swamps of Louisiana and these days they survive by eating bugs off the bottom of the bayou (the bugs are called "cray-fish", I think.) They also sell recordings of themselves tuning up their violins and accordions to tourists for sixteen dollars a CD; they call it "folk music" but it's all a big scam, you can see why the British threw them out.

Anyway, this "Cajun" sub-culture provides the perfect setting for a series of regional mysteries. These Cajuns live right here in the US; they have their own dialect, their own customs, and their own folkways, and--here's the icing on the cake--they're white! (Technically.) The fact that Cajuns are technically white counts for more than you might think in the escapist regional mystery market; we don't have to worry about losing a lot of the little old white ladies in the potential mystery audience because they're scared of people of color, get me?

I smell big money here--BIG money! So here's my first effort. Remember now, it is only a first effort--I have trouble getting the local "French accent" right; it's not the classial "Parisian" French I was exposed to during my time at the Sorbonne. But it doesn't matter, the locals can't speak good French either. What matters is: local color, regional flavor, authentic folkways trivia, combined with a good ol' rattling mystery to keep them reading. Here goes:


"The Riddle of the Swamp"

Sheriff Pat Fontenot scratched the stubble on his chin and studied the body on the floor. How had it happened? One moment, old Tante Pa had been so full of life, so merry--and now, she was so dead. Sometime late the previous night, someone had broken into her rattle-trap old shack out on the Bozeau Bayou and put a live alligator up her nightdress. She lay on the floor, half-eaten, her pitiful remains encompassed by a half a chalk outline.

The only possible suspect was a mysterious stranger who claimed to be the victim's nephew and had been the only person in the cabin with her the night before. No one could ever recall Tante Pa mentioning a nephew before, and the stranger had just arrived in these parts without any references. But the fellow claimed to be a Cajun, and thus above suspicion. It certainly was a puzzler.

"Really, Sheriff," sneered the stranger. "This is all very inconvenient. I have tickets for the opera this evening, can't I be allowed to go now?"

"You 'jus hold on dere," said Sheriff Fontenot. "I sent for Thibodeaux and Boudreaux, da famous Cajun "Coon Ass" detectives. Dey sho' gonna be able to shed some light on the sit-chee-ation, dat for sho'."

"But Sheriff--"

"You jus' hold yo' water, dere, mistah!" He pointed at a pile of sticks sitting in the middle of the swamp, about fifty yards away. "Dey live jus' next to dat beavah lodge right deah. I tink dey sub-let their house from da beavers. And I sent fo' dem six hours ago, so dey should be here any minute now.

Sure enough, at that very moment the soft "put-put-put" of an outboard motor could be heard as the pirogue of Thibodeaux and Boudreaux pulled up to the shack. (Actually the two had no outboard motor, but Boudreaux insisted that Thibodeaux imitate the sound of an engine whenever they crossed the bayou because it made him feel like he was poling faster.)

"Eee-yaw, Sheriff!"

"Ai-ee-yow, Boudreau!"

"Ai-ee-yaw, Sheriff!

"Eee-ooo-yaw, Thibodeaux!" said the Sheriff, helping them tie up the pirogue to the shack. "I show hope you two fellers can hep me solve dis heah mystery, fo' sho!"

"Me either," said Thibodeaux, taking a long pull from a gasoline container and then passing it to Boudreau. "Now wheah dis fellah who say he Cajun?"

"That would be me, sir," said the stranger, straightening a pleat in the trousers of his Versace suit. "Ee-yo-wah, gentlemen. I assure you that I am indeed an Acadian."

"We gonna be da judge of dat," said Boudreaux, seriously.

"Dat fo' sho," added Thibodeaux. "Now tell us wheah you was when da moider was committed. We know from yo' story whedda you real Cajun or not."

"My alibi, you mean? Certainly, gentlemen." The stranger straightened his tie and began his tale. "I was nowhere near the scene of the crime. I was home at the time--taking a nice hot bath in my bathtub, which is indoors, of course. In between washing myself (with soap) I was mentally calculating the monthly payments on all my gold and platinum credit cards. I have a fine credit rating, you see, and I often do math in my head to calculate the payments. Just then, the telephone rang--I must keep a phone handy because I have a regular job, you know. In this case, the caller was my wife--she was calling about our son, the college graduate. We only have one child, not the usual sixteen, since our religion permits us to use birth control. Anyway, my wife, who is not my first cousin, told me--"

"Stop right deah, mistah," snapped Thibodeux. "Arrest dis man, Sheriff. He ain' no real Cajun."

Mystery: How did Thibodeaux know that the stranger was not a real Cajun?

Solution: He didn't. Thibodeaux was not referring to the stranger when he said "Dis feller 'ere ain't no real Cajun." Thibodeaux was referring to Boudreaux, who WAS in fact a real Cajun. But Thibodeaux like to give old Boudreaux a hard time about "not being a real Cajun" ever since Boudreaux threw away his corn cobs and bought a roll of toilet paper.


At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Chris said...



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