Mysteries in the Mountains: New Representations of Identity in Appalachia

Appalachian fiction has often used mystery, mysticism, even supernatural occurrences to reclaim representations of Appalachian ‘otherness.’ Both Sharyn McCrumb and Denise Giardiana use songs and stories of ‘the sight,’ ghosts, or visions to suggest the role that the region’s enduring past-present tensions play in Appalachian identity. Their insights go well beyond who-done-it puzzles of murder-suspense fiction, but in recent decades, perhaps accelerated by McCrumb’s brand of mystery, an increasing number of detective characters have appeared in stories set in Appalachia. This paper will examine a number of murder-mystery novels set in Appalachian communities, real and fictitious, and what they reflect about identity in and representation of the region.

This paper will analyze a range of murder mysteries, from those that simply use Appalachia to provide colorful details and characters to those that engage substantive events or issues to those that dig into mysteries of the region's past and traditions. This paper will examine novels* portraying a law officer investigating contemporary drug crime and poverty, a private detective exploring past stories still resonating in the present, and a widowed farmer drawn into murders of secrets, magic, or , as well as works set amidst mountain tourism or quirky fictitious mountain communities. This spectrum of portrayals points to a changing Appalachia, where identity connects with the region in myriad ways, rural, urban, traditional, or outward-looking. This paper argues that these representations, beyond the mountaineer (or hillbilly), engage the many identities of the region’s diverse and diversifying people.