Joan Hess

Arly Hanks - Police Chief and sole officer in the Ozark town of Maggody

"Muletrain to Maggody "

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer JAN 16, 2004)

Muletrain to Maggody by Joan hess

There’s gold in them there caves...or at least there is according to the recently recovered journal of one Private Henry Largesse. The local historical society is funding a mostly volunteer driven documentary of the skirmish of Cotter’s Ridge, a battle that did very little to help either side of the Civil War conflict, but did, supposedly, force the Confederates to hide a large amount of gold to keep the Yankees from getting it. The documentary is bringing in a lot of people: civil war reenactors from those who willingly wear soaked, tight boots to get sores on their feet to the farbs who do hedonistic things like put on sunscreen and eat hotdogs roasted over a fire. It’s also brought Corinne Dawk, a southern belle who writes historical romances and gives talks; her son, who'd rather have a stiff drink -- or three -- than narrate the documentary; and his fiancée, who is much more than the sweet debutant she allows people to think her to be. It has brought several others, but the most important of these is Jack Wallace, who’s volunteered to do the filming. He and Arly have a past, and she finds herself as interested in him as ever.

Doubtless Arly Hanks, the Police chief of the very small town of Maggody, thought the worst thing she would have to face during the filming of the civil war documentary was a bunch of drunken would be rebels. But townspeople, eager to find the gold, are missing, and two people are discovered murdered; one is a fussy, obsessed member of the Historical Society, the other an unpopular older woman with only a neighborhood girl to call her friend. Also, the gold hunters keep seeing a ghost dressed in a confederate uniform. Arly, as the only member of the police force, now has to find these missing people, do the legwork on solving the murders, and find a way to organize the crowds for the documentary.

We don’t have a murder for a good first part of the book. Hess introduces us to the various townspeople, all of whom have a plan to get the gold for themselves. Brother Verber, the spiritual leader of the town who is so hypocritical he doesn’t even realize it; the schoolmarm like Lottie, who convinces her similarly timid friends to help her break into the Historical society's house to get the journal; would-be starlet Darla Jean, who wants to use the gold as her one way ticket out of town. Even Arly’s mum, Ruby Bee, taciturn owner of the only bar and motel in town, is hatching a plan. We get a lot of comedy here, as we see how the promise of gold changes people...some of them do things that would never before occur or them, rationalizing their actions the whole time. How these actions backfire on each one is a very funny and telling lesson in human nature.

Arly Hanks is rather pleasant. She doesn’t really like her job; it’s pretty boring, and she has to put up with people like the extra fussy Mrs. Jim Bob, who aspires to be the epitome of grace and culture, but has so little to work with, and who, when she‘s not trying to be elegant, has a very cruel tongue and looks down on Arly. But, she likes the people of Maggody. She doesn’t really say so, but her narration, when we are with her, comes across as someone who is exasperated and endeared by the people around her all at the same time. She has a very dry sense of humor, and I enjoyed reading her.

Colorful, well plotted and hilarious, it’ll definitely make you smile.
  • Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Muletrain to Maggody at

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Bibliography: (with links to

Arly Hanks Mysteries:

Claire Malloy Mysteries:

Writing as Joan Hadley:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Joan HessJoan Hess was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1949. She received a B.A. in art from the University of Arkansas in 1971 and a M.A. in education from Long Island University in 1974. She married Jeremy Hess in 1973.

She begin writing in 1984. Her first novel, Strangled Prose, was nominated for the Anthony Award. Mischief in Maggody was nominated for the best novel. A Diet to Die For won the American Mystery Award in 1989. Her short stories have also won awards.

She is a full-time writer and the mother of two and lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014