Should a cozy mystery be pure fluff? Or, should it take on serious issues? Lesley A. Diehl prefers to blend real issues, not fluff, into her cozies. In her latest Eve Appel mystery, she tackles issues about ecological balance in the swamps of Florida. And therein lies the story behind “Mud Bog Murder.”
“I live in rural Florida,” Diehl said. “Coastal construction is creeping closer to the small towns, cattle ranches and wild areas of the interior. Where swamp used to occupy the sides of the two-lane road leading from my home to West Palm Beach, now the road is four-lane, the swamps have been filled in, and I no longer see wading birds, turtles, or alligators, or the lush water plants like water hyacinth, cattails, and water lettuce. The land is being sold in five acre lots as mini-ranches or ‘farmettes’.”
Diehl also noted how recent wildlife studies revealed the small mammal population in rural areas had radically declined. “Their reduced numbers can be traced to habitat infringement and the growing presence of nonindigenous snake species such as constrictors released once their owners no longer can feed them. I can’t think why people think snakes are ‘pets.’ You can’t ‘pet’ them.”
Roads are now restricting the flow of water south from Lake Okeechobee, which is near where Diehl lives. “The Everglades area is drying up,” Diehl said. “The release of water polluted by sugarcane factories and farmlands into the Lake and from there into the canals connected to coastal estuaries such as the St. Lucie estuary is killing fish and plants.
I like being able to discuss these issues in fiction through protagonists who share my passion…
“Overdevelopment of the rural countryside is an issue in Florida because much of that land is swampland and seen as wasted unless it is filled in with condos, golf courses, or uses found for it other than animal habitat. Mud bog racing is just an additional assault on wild and natural Florida.”
Obviously, Diehl feels strongly about these issues. But then, she’s always been somewhat of an activist. She’s protested about Viet Nam, civil rights in Georgia, and with women’s groups in Upstate New York.
“I never lost my strong commitment to advocating for equal rights,” Diehl said. “I like being able to discuss these issues in fiction through protagonists who share my passion. I think weaving serious themes into a cozy deepens the characters and makes the settings real. I like to be able to give readers a taste of the way Florida used to be—farming and ranch communities, fields of cattle grazing among sabal palms and cowboys riding herd on cow ponies carrying rifles and wearing Stetsons and spurs. This is ‘Old Florida,’ and I’m glad it hasn’t completely disappeared.”
You might expect someone who lived in Florida would grow up knowing about Old Florida or how dangerous an alligator can be. But then, maybe not. They probably don’t teach gator stuff in school.
“I have a healthy respect for alligators because I live so close to some of them,” Diehl said. “There is a small canal behind my house in Florida that always has a gator swimming in it. Sometimes they’re small, only three feet, but I’ve seen some over five feet long. They are fast and not to be messed with. You certainly don’t feed them or annoy them. They are assuredly not pets.
“Several years ago, the paper carried the story of a young man who decided to show off to his friends by taking a swim at night in Nubbin Slough, the slough that is located less than a half-mile from where I live. One of his arms became a dish on the gator buffet. Wildlife spent the remainder of the night and the next day hunting down the alligator that took his arm, killing several in the hunt. How stupid can anyone be to swim with these predators especially at night?”
One of the things Florida writers talk about is the ease of finding stories close to home. Diehl echoed those sentiments. “Here, story ideas appear in the newspapers daily. If you have an imagination and live in Florida, you’ve got a book.”
Learn more about Lesley A. Diehl and “Mud Bog Murder” at lesleyadiehl.com.
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