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Life and Death in the Hocking Hills

Local authors vary the fare for your summer reading

Death in a Double-Wide

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, not exactly, but there was a very dense fog. So dense that it could cover up a murder. The first murder in Hocking County in 50 years, and it happened almost right in my own backyard. While the county sheriff fished Lake Logan for bass, shots rang out just hundreds of yards away. A local lays sprawled in his desk chair at the office of Green Hills Trailer Sales--shot with precision once through the heart and once through each -- well, you'll have to read the book to find THAT out. Meanwhile, a caravan of police cruisers streaks through the fog on Route 33. One veers abruptly onto Lake Logan Road. With lights flashing and siren blaring, the cruiser slides into the newly delivered white sand on the beach. The deputy meets the sheriff on the shore as each alights from his respective conveyance. "Okay, what's happening?" asks the sheriff, as he steps from his rowboat. "Some idiot dynamite the courthouse?"


No, it seems that the bureaucrats are safe this time (at least until Cron's next novel), as the killer stalks a seemingly unconnected string of "civilian" victims from a trailer salesman to the sheriff's comely wife. With more twists and turns than the Buckeye Trail, Just a Piddlin' Little, Two-Bit Murder takes you into the
backwoods of Hocking County and as far north as Michigan's upper peninsula as author Rodney Cron weaves a tale of sex, violence, and revenge that could only take place in -- my back yard? I don't think so!

As a long-time resident of Hocking County, I've never seen anything more violent than a frog dining on a June bug. But when you lead a quiet life, it is sometimes fun to pretend that danger lurks at every turn, and that is why I love a good mystery. And it is definitely murder he wrote. Just about everyone in Cron's book has a reason to kill, and I guarantee that even the most adept armchair sleuths won't figure this one out until they close the cover for the last time.

Getting to whodunit in Piddlin' is a challenge, and you'll be entertained all along the way if, like me, you like to read books that take place in a locale that you know well. The realistic setting and familiar character types make the story of a sensational murder in the tranquil town of Logan seem more than believable. After you read Piddlin', don't be surprised to find yourself looking twice at the people you pass on East Main or see at the Dairy Queen.

Because the killer is still out there, by the way.

Of Cabbages and Kings and Other Important Things

Now, when you're ready to turn down the jets on the hot tub and relax a bit, pick up Backwoods Musings, a collection of essays by Ed Fassig. Fassig writes about everything from history to highway litter, but he says it better: "of cabbages and kings and other important things" is how he puts it. Oh, Fassig writes about killing, too, but it's more like what we're used to here in the country. A goshawk swoops down on some furry critter, and then a turkey vulture moves in to feast on the remains. No sex, sizzle, or complicated motives, just lunch. Most of Fassig's stories have a happy ending, like the hummingbird who got tangled in a spider web and then was bitten and left to die, but didn't. And the wild turkey, the quail, and the deer -- all at one time endangered species here that now thrive in the regrowth of Ohio's forests.

Fassig lives in a cabin in the woods, so a lot of his stories are about nature. But not everything he writes about has fur or feathers. "I study nature from my home in the woods almost every day," he says. "But every once in a while, I get the urge to study people." Readers will be glad that he gets that urge, as Fassig conjures a cast of characters that rival those in any work of fiction.

He relates many anecdotes from his days growing up in Columbus from the late '30s to the '50s. These are fascinating slices of life from the days when that city earned and deserved the appellation "cow town."

In later years, his occasional forays out of the woods into "civilization" seem to always turn into adventures, especially when he gets into vehicle (which almost always seems to be borrowed and underpowered) and out on to the highway. Read these stories, and maybe driving on Route 33 might become a bit more bearable (you'll swear you've passed this guy more than once!). At least it might help you to better understand your fellow traveler and get by with a little less of what Fassig calls "horn blaring and finger waving."

Yes, a trip to Lancaster these days is excitement enough for a man who learned to drive when the speed limit was 35 miles per hour. Each time he leaves the big city, Fassig welcomes the return to that first Hocking Hill at Horn's Mill Road. "It feels like I'm coming home," he says. Once safely back in the Hills, Fassig can relax. He draws a glass of well water and sits down on the porch swing to watch the gray squirrels that entertain him daily and manage to invade the bird feeders no matter what. "I ain't got much learnin'," he says, "but after living twenty-three years here in the woods, I think I've learned a thing or two a lot of college perfessors don't know. I just ain't learned how to outwit a squirrel, but I'm workin' on it!" 

Backwoods Musings is about life, human and otherwise. People and nature, both striving to hold on to the past while moving forward, trying to balance what was with what must be as "progress sneaks up on us." Still, much of Musings is lighthearted. And in many places, the book is downright funny. But all of it is serious. And don't let the dialect fool you. Fassig's editor allows him an occasional indulgence that only enhances passages of well crafted prose. Fassig has more "learnin'" than he lets on, and powers of observation that are honed from years of keenly watching man and beast.

Just a Piddlin' Little, Two-Bit Murder by Rodney L. Cron (AmErica House, $21.95) and Backwoods Musings by Ed Fassig (The Backwoods Publishing Company, $12.95) are both available at Great Expectations Bookstore and Cafe.

 by Donna Fioto
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