Downstream by Betty Jean Craige



Thanks, Marilyn, for inviting me to contribute to your Musings today. I just ordered your book Final Respects, and I am excited to get into your mystery series.

Ever since my childhood in El Paso, Texas, I have read mysteries. I started with Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, and the Hardy Boys, and went on to Perry Mason as I grew older. When I finished all of the Perry Mason books at the age of thirteen I worried that I'd never find another series I liked as much. Then I got busy studying literature and teaching literature—difficult literature, like "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"—and forgot the pleasure I'd once had figuring out who dunnit in mysteries that engage the reader in the sleuthing.

In 2011, after thirty-eight wonderful years, I retired from the University of Georgia as professor of comparative literature and director of the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts. While writing a biography of the ecosystem ecologist Eugene Odum, I had become interested in the effect our environment has upon the health of us humans and our fellow creatures. When time allowed me to resume reading mysteries and to write one of my own I decided to explore the effects of pharmaceutical pollution upon all of us who drink our planet's water.

So I wrote Downstream, the original title of which was "We All Live Downstream." Because I live in Athens, Georgia, and love the north Georgia mountains, I situated my novel in a town I called Witherston, about a half hour north of Dahlonega. Dahlonega was the site of the Georgia Gold Rush in 1828, and north Georgia was the home of the Cherokees people whom the government force-marched to Indian Territory (in present-day Oklahoma) in 1838 because white settlers wanted their gold and land.

In Downstream, the centenarian billionaire Francis Hearty Withers has benefitted from the crimes committed against the Cherokees here almost two centuries ago. He has inherited his wealth. His great, great grandfather got rich panning for gold on Cherokee land and got lucky winning forty acres of Cherokee land in the Georgia Land Lottery. He passed his wealth down through four generations of Withers men. No male Withers ever had to work.

At the celebration of his hundredth birthday, Withers announces to the people gathered on the front lawn of Witherston Baptist Church that he has finalized his will. In it he bequeaths $1 billion to his north Georgia hometown of Witherston and another $1 billion to be divided up equally among the town's 4,000 residents in recognition of their support of a Senextra pharmaceutical factory. Senextra is a drug that enables individuals taking it, such as Withers himself, to lead healthy lives well into their second century. But it has some unanticipated consequences. The group assembled to hear Withers's announcement do not all applaud. One person carries a sign that says SENEXTRA VIOLATES MOTHER NATURE. Another, KEEP SENEXTRA OUT OF OUR SYSTEM. A third, WE DON'T NEED MORE OLD MEN. Withers flies into a rage. He vows to change his will and disinherit the community. Two days later he is found dead.

That's the beginning of the story.

The obvious question the reader will ask is: Who dunnit? The less obvious question is: What will happen to our whole society if individuals keep themselves alive indefinitely? As one character asks, "Which do you prefer: old-growth forests or old-growth men?"

I had a whale of a good time writing Downstream. I liked inventing the town of Witherston, imagining all its slightly odd but nonetheless delightful residents, seeing what those characters would do when confronted with perplexing problems—such as the dead body, the five-legged frog, and the pregnant middle-aged women—and developing the story. I hope that my readers smile a lot when they read my novel, but I also hope that they think a lot too.



Blurb:

At the celebration of his hundredth birthday, local billionaire Francis Hearty Withers announces to the people gathered on the front lawn of Witherston Baptist Church that he has finalized his will. In it he bequeaths $1 billion to his north Georgia hometown of Witherston and another $1 billion to be divided up equally among the town's 4,000 residents—in recognition of their support of a Senextra pharmaceutical factory. Senextra is a drug that enables individuals to lead healthy lives well into their second century, but it has some unanticipated consequences.
          
The group assembled to hear Withers's announcement do not all applaud. One person carries a sign that says SENEXTRA VIOLATES MOTHER NATURE. Another, KEEP SENEXTRA OUT OF OUR SYSTEM. A third, WE DON'T NEED MORE OLD MEN.

Withers flies into a rage. He vows to change his will and disinherit the community. Two days later he is found dead.
          
In Betty Jean Craige's first murder mystery a few humans die in unusual circumstances. (A few others live in unusual circumstances.) Who dunnit?



Betty Jean Craige
Bio: 

Betty Jean Craige is University Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and Director Emerita of the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts at the University of Georgia. 
          
She received her B.A. in Spanish Literature from Pomona College (1968) and her M.A. (1970) and Ph.D. (1974) in Comparative Literature from the University of Washington.  She taught at the University of Georgia from 1973 to 2011.
          
Dr. Craige has published books in the fields of Spanish poetry, modern literature, history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art.  She is a scholar, a translator, a teacher, and a novelist.
          
In 2010, Dr. Craige published in both hardback and audiobook Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot. In 2011 and 2012 she published a weekly Sunday column in the Athens Banner-Herald titled “Cosmo Talks.”
          
Dr. Craige’s essays have appeared in PMLA, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Athens Banner Herald.
          
Dr. Craige has received the University of Georgia Alumni Society Faculty Service Award (1994), the Albert Christ-Janer Award for Creativity in Research (2003), the Blue Key Service Award (2010), and the Women's Studies Faculty Award (2011).  She has also received awards for teaching, including the Honoratus Medal from the Honors Program.  The title “University Professor” was granted to her in 1995 as “highest recognition for significant impact on The University of Georgia.” On May 13, 2004, she received the Governor’s Award in the Humanities.
          
On December 20, 2003, Dr. Craige delivered the graduate and professional schools’ commencement address at the University of Georgia. On January 27, 2012, she gave the University’s Founders Day Lecture. On September 17, 2013, she accepted the Jeannette Rankin Fund Founders' Award. In March of 2014, UGA's Comparative Literature Department honored her by establishing an annual lecture in her name.
          
Dr. Craige was Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Delta Prize for Global Understanding.           
Most recently she has written a murder mystery titled Downstream, published by Black Opal Books on November 26, 2014.


Dr. Craige's website is under construction




 

Comments

Lindathorne said…
How neat. A strong background for writing a book, a professor of literature. How neat. The book sounds great.

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