The Hog Ranch near Hillville, Iowa, is a notorious place. All kinds of illegal ‘business’ prospers there. It’s a known hideout for the criminal element, and its proximity to Omaha is a major plus for the goings-on inside – and outside as well. The sturdy old log structure sits along the shoreline of the Missouri River; that mighty waterway flows just steps outside the back door and provides a good place to dispose of dead bodies. Set in the middle of the 1950’s, the tale of Hurricane Kingdom – who seems (at first) a minor character in the entire scheme of things – twists and forks along the muddy trails of the riverbank behind the Hog Ranch with its gambling Cellar, gigantic barroom, and a well-populated House on the top floor.
The quiet and somewhat dull town of Hillville is nearby but also a world away, exactly as the town and the Ranch both want it to be. Guy LeFevere and Caleb Starfire, the men who shoulder the burdens of the Starfire Detective agency, share the responsibilities of policing the town as well as all of Bogger County with an inept, portly and rather absurd sheriff, Fred Baylor. It’s a mixed match-up, but despite all the fuming and fumbling of the dull-witted sheriff, the detectives prevail, and more often than not the criminal element is subdued or eventually rendered harmless – and sometimes actually imprisoned. Frequently, however, the criminals inflict their deadly punishments upon each other. The 1950’s shine through the novel and offer a fun-filled romp through Hillville and its environs, creating renewed memories for those who survived that time, and a lesson in human history for those who missed all the fun.
Herbert L. Smith is here at Brooke Blogs today with an interesting guest post. He is sharing some of his life story about growing up in Iowa as an introduction to his books. Thank you so much for the guest post, Herbert.
It might seem a little egocentric to write about myself so much on these guest posts, but after thinking about it, I decided that these posts could add something to the books by making my own early life a mirror of the times I’ve written about in the Starfire Mystery Series.
I was born in 1939, in a tiny house out in the country south of Glenwood, Iowa – Hillville in the books – on the first day of July, during a major flood of the Missouri River. The great waterway normally flowed along about a mile from that house. But as the days passed, the river enlarged and encroached on the house; the family had to flee in a farm wagon pulled by horses. They plodded through the waters for about two miles to get to the hills on the east side of the ‘river bottom’ as the wide, flat flood plain was called. Then the water rolled higher, inundating the little house for several days.
There was a lot of other intrigue at my birth, which I won’t go into now, but it couldn’t have been a secure time for my mother, and my older sisters felt the anxiety as well. Father, I’m sure, did much the same things then as he always did. He worked as hard as he could and left the rest to fate. Fate was kinder to him after that, at least for a few months.
The life of a hired farm hand was hard, and there was very little money. The great depression still held that part of the country in its grip. My parents were proud that they had gone only once to the welfare office to collect ‘commodities,’ as free food was called then, and they managed to take care of their offspring on their own the rest of the time.
The family moved from place to place for farm work, the only thing my father wanted to do, although it wasn’t plentiful except at certain seasons of the year. A few years earlier, before they had a family, my parents lived at the ‘Hog Ranch.’ the establishment featured in this book. My mother was always afraid of the place, as she told us later, so they left after a few months.
As I prepared to write this story, I checked the Hog Ranch out on the internet. It is and was a real place, and according to a news story that just came online a few months ago, it was purpose-built in 1900 to house a barroom, a gambling ‘den,’ and a brothel upstairs! There was also a horse-racing track on the premises, which brought in even more of a criminal element, according to the article. (I used ‘author privilege’ to juggle the timeline a bit for my book.) It was all illegal, of course, but lawmen were lax about that kind of thing at the time. In the 1920’s, during prohibition, the place was closed. It later sold to a couple of farmers who opened the Hog Ranch, but it was never a rousing success, and changed hands many times. It’s currently for sale again.
About the Author
Herb Smith, the author of eight books and counting, is a native of Glenwood, Iowa, the town that is the prototype for Hillville, which is featured in the Starfire Mystery Series. He has memories of people and events that stretch back to the 1940’s, and his memory is not only long, but detailed as well.
He has recreated the Iowa of his youth in the Starfire Mystery Series. (This is the third book in the series.) The stories are all set in the 1950’s, something of an American Golden Age, and the joys and struggles of life, along with the murders, are evident as the reader becomes ever more beguiled by that world.
Smith’s own life has included places far flung from Southwestern Iowa: Egypt and the Middle East, Argentina, Idaho, and even exotic central California, where he spent thirty five years (except for the time he was working outside the U. S.)
He is a musician – mostly church music – and has worked in all kinds of churches as organist, sometimes doubling as choir master as well. He also taught English as a Foreign Language in California Universities and other schools around the world. Currently, he lives the retired life in Eugene, Oregon, with his wife, Glenda. Their daughter Melanie and her husband William live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. Theirs is a small but closely linked family, and they spend holidays and many other times together. They don’t have dogs, but Pippa, the colossal cat, reigns unquestionably in her California home.
Smith’s future remains bright. A new series, called the Quest Samson Mystery Series (based in Eugene), is in the works, as well as other unusual but interesting book projects, and he is considering some musical compositions that will add to his artistic credentials.