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Welcome to Zenith, Illinois, population 1700. Ooops, make that 1699.
From Webster's dictionary: ze-nith 1. the point of the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the nadir and vertically above the observer 2. the highest point reached in the heavens by a celestial body 3. culminating point: acme 4. a small town in southern Illinois best known for killer comedy con queso.
Zenith is nestled in the region of southern Illinois known as Little Egypt. The reason for this odd moniker is that like (Big) Egypt, Little Egypt is a fertile land between rivers. The Wabash, the Ohio, and the Mississippi Rivers have cradled this unique civilization, sheltering it from the interference of lawmakers and big city slicksters since the French first discovered and settled it.
French influence mixed with the unique southern-Illinois southern accent results in a patois that can only be heard here: Beaucoup Creek = Buckup Crik; the southern Illinois city of Cairo = Kay-ro; and Dubois = Dew Boys. The name Illinois is the French version of the name of a local Native American tribe called Illini. When you live in an isolated area, you can pronounce words however you want. If anyone says diff'rnt, they'll likely get their ass kicked then run out of town. (If they did it in the reverse order, the asskicking might prove trickier to enforce.)
The rivers aren't the only natural protector to Little Egypt's way of life: geographical formations, such as caves and cliffs created when the glaciers were bullying their way around the landscape, play an important role in the lifestyle of southern Illinoisans. Coal mines employed many; rock formations along the river ways afforded River Pirates and Highwaymen with ambush sites; and the rural landscape hid many Moonshiners and Other Lawbreakers.
Like the surrounding area, Zenith has its share of lawbreakers. Welcome to Zenith and the On The Queso series of comedy mysteries, which are fertile with murder, mayhem, and mucho queso.
The geography is not the only unique attribute of the state. Some of the most notorious killers of all times once called Illinois their home.
In Chicago in 1893, H.H. Holmes built the ultimate tourist trap: a murder hotel with a very early and very permanent checkout. After killing countless World's Fair tourists, Holmes became known as one of America's first known serial killers.
Further back in time and further down the state in Little Egypt, another tourist trap was built in a natural cave on the Ohio River. Dubbed Cave-in-Rock in the late eighteenth century, it first housed a tavern and point of respite for boat travelers. The cave soon attracted thieves and river pirates that preyed on the passing boats.
Samuel Mason, a river pirate, and his gang devised ways to make boats run aground for easier access.
The most notorious cave outlaws to join Mason's gang were Micajah and Wiley Harpe. Before the Harpe Boys landed at Cave-in-Rock, they had escaped from prison in Tennessee where they had been incarcerated for murder. Unlike most thieves, however, the Harpes killed their victims not for profit, but for fun. Their butchery was so savage that River Pirate Mason asked them to leave his gang. The Harpes, too, have been named as two of America's most famous serial killers.
Ironically, today Cave-in-Rock is again a popular tourist destination, which offers 204 acres for picnicking, hiking, and camping without the threat of outlaws.
In the 1920s, southern Illinois was the scene of several bloody clashes, including the infamous Coal Miner Massacre in bloody Williamson county. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat deemed it, "The most brutal and horrifying crime that has ever stained the garments of organized labor." The Massacre was the bloody clash between striking coal miners, strikebreakers, and local members of the community.
Charlie Birger, bootlegger, outlaw, and sometimes philanthropist, is known as the most violent gangster in southern Illinois during the 1920s. When Prohibition came to the coal mines of southern Illinois, Birger seized the opportunity to line his pockets with cash and flood the streets with the blood of his rivals and law enforcement officers.
The On the Queso mystery series combats the dark side of human nature with comedy and compassion. It is meant to remind us that although there are evil people, goodness always wins (because it's fiction, and because we all need a fun ride and a safe place to land).
Throughout the series, Colby will traverse the bizarre human and geographical landscape of southern Illinois as she tracks mayhem makers, solves small town murder mysteries, discovers some shocking truths about herself, and falls in love (despite her best efforts to remain single).
Join her on her journey as she encounters psychopaths, con artists, freshly freed mental institution patients, albino squirrels, ghost chasers, riverboat gamblers, and unemployed circus freaks.