Kentucky had a national reputation for violence that was not entirely unearned. But when a man was shot, it was usually common knowledge who shot him and why. Between the Regulators and the Klan, lynching parties were a regular occurrence. Duels still caused a few deaths, though thankfully, those were becoming rare. There were always feuds brewing in the mountains. Lately, we had been having more than our share of political assassinations. Still, the murder of ordinary citizens for unknown reasons was an altogether different kind of violence.
The quote above is from CIRCLE OF DISHONOR. I think it says quite a lot about why I chose to set a series of Victorian era murder mysteries in Kentucky.
No place in the United States was more divided within or battered from outside than Kentucky. Washington may have labeled the occupation of Kentucky as Readjustment rather than Reconstruction, but the effect was the same. Kentuckians were subjected to post- war military occupation. Their homes and public buildings were commandeered by the army and strict curfews were imposed. The freedom our frontiersmen ancestors enjoyed was gone forever and independent minded Kentuckians chafed under military rule by the government they fought to preserve.
The Kentucky problem was two fold. Although it had remained in the Union during the Civil War, Central Kentucky was decidedly loyal to the Confederates. The Confederate president and several of the South’s best generals came from Kentucky. The state also produced more slaves than horses. Lincoln may have needed Kentucky to win the war, but Lincoln was dead. The new Republican leaders were not about to let Kentucky forget it was as a slave state. Kentucky felt the impact of the Freedmen’s Bureau, suffered the ignominy of a congressional investigation into the qualifications of its elected representatives and for many years was terrorized by lawless and violent guerrilla bands who wandered the countryside after the war’s end.
Citizens who had been loyal to the Union reacted with shock at being treated like a conquered territory. Their frustrations quickly turned to anger and violence. If Kentucky ever deserved the title “Dark and Bloody Land” it was during the years following the Civil War. Members of secret societies like the Knights of the Golden Circle, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Regulators took positions of power and wielded that power with impunity.
The damage done by Readjustment created an atmosphere of mistrust that still exists today in rural Kentucky. Lexington and Louisville fared better, but the cities struggled with the death throes of old Kentucky. A new era was dawning but ingrained corruption, mistrust of industry, a despotic Democratic Party, and fear of outsiders slowed progress to the point that Mark Twain swore that he wanted to be in Kentucky when the end of the world came, because everything happened ten years later here.
If Nessa doesn’t find the killer fast, she stands to lose everything—maybe even her life.
About the Author:
Gwen Mayo is a history junkie, particularly the history of her home state. Her writing blends Kentucky history with her love for mystery fiction. A graduate in political science from the University of Kentucky, Gwen currently lives and writes in Lexington, but grew up in a large Irish family in Grayson, Kentucky. Her stories have appeared in anthologies, on online short fiction sites, and in micro-fiction collections. Circle of Dishonor, her debut novel, is set during the turbulent political upheaval of post Civil War Kentucky at a time when murder was sometimes claimed to be more common in Kentucky than death by natural causes.
We'd like to thank Gwen for coming, and you can find her at her blog: gwenmayo.blogspot.com and her website: http://www.gwenmayo.com/