Mayhem in Mayberry: Misadventures of a P.I. in Southern Appalachia by Brian Lee Knopp (Çosmic Pigbite Press, 154 pages, $14.95).
This lively, intelligent, funny memoir has been selling well in the Asheville area for about a year, and it's time the rest of the state caught on. The author used to be a private investigator in the western part of the state, until he realized what the job was doing to him, and to his view of humanity. That's a fairly common tale among P.I.'s and cops, but Knopp's version is uncommonly perceptive, human and open-hearted, considering the collection of characters he meets.
The author puts the reader right there, through the tedium and the fear, when he investigates cases that bring him in close contact with reclusive sociopaths, pissed off husbands who want him to catch their wives cheating, and mentally damaged souls (with weapons), including a tragic, moving confrontation with his own mother. One story I won't forget for a long time tells of Knopp's meeting, in a very remote area, with a couple suspected of insurance fraud. His descriptions of the ensuing talk around a kitchen table, and the mounting tension as he navigates his way through a conversation with a tightly wound, shotgun-owning crook and the crook's abused wife, still give me goosebumps as I'm writing this.
A few things make Knopp's memoir of his P.I. days different and worthwhile: his fine writing skills; his love of the Appalachian landscape; his love of the often unintentional humor in the lives of those he meets; a palpable compassion for those caught in bad circumstances they don't deserve; and his ongoing portrait of his supportive, wisecracking wife.