When I set out to write a book about a long unsolved murder in the Poconos region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I knew it would be a hard slog. Years as an investigative reporter and editor had prepared me for the resistance I was likely to encounter since the resort area jealously guards its image as a four-season Eden and is controlled by politicians and a law enforcement establishment answerable to no one, least of all the citizens of a once special area that has been raped by developers and suffers a crime rate out of proportion to its population.
The Pennsylvania State Police refused to cooperate, and it is not hard to see why. They were responsible for the slipshod investigative work that allowed to go free the ax murderer who laid low the protagonist of my book, as well as the victims of other unsolved
murders discussed in it. But I eventually cultivated contacts with a variety of sources, some of them former law enforcement officials, who painted a picture far worse than I had imagined.
In their view, if you are a hippie who ran a bust-out joint in a one-stoplight town, which my protagonist was, or gay or a drug dealer or a gay drug dealer, which my other murder victims were, the state police and the political and law enforcement establishment didn't give a damn. In other words, if the victim was viewed as a nobody, the killer could literally get away with murder.
Published in May 2010, The Bottom of the Fox: A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder, was greeted with deafening silence by this establishment.
Politicians, public and law enforcement officials from the governor on down were sent complimentary copies. No one commented publicly, although in the following months I repeatedly heard that the book was much fretted over behind closed doors, and when I happened to run into a state representative and he was asked if he had read it, he turned beet red and then turned heel, telling me over his shoulder as he walked away that "I'm not running for re-election."
Despite the book's bombshell allegations and my journalistic pedigree, the local newspaper and other news media also were silent. Only the owner of a single Poconos bookstore agreed to carry the book; the owners of other bookstores blanched and shook their heads when I explained what it was about.
The sole exception was Lisa Carroll at Carroll & Carroll on Main Street in Stroudsburg.
Carroll & Carroll exemplifies the best of a dying breed: A local bookstore not beholden to the whims of an Internet-driven publishing industry that has killed thousands of mom-and-pop bookstores across the country. It has survived by offering hands-on service and offering a mix of best sellers, classics, cut-rate used books, and in this case an extensive selection of books about the Poconos.
The Bottom of the Fox has sold steadily if not spectacularly at Amazon.com and other online booksellers. When a second edition was published in September 2010, Ms. Carroll was not only was eager to stock it, she displayed copies in her store window during the Christmas holiday season. The book sold out twice and Ms. Carroll twice asked for more copies.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the first anniversary of the book's publication. Despite the newspaper and magazine clippings on the walls of Carroll & Carroll extolling free speech, and despite the raves from reviewers and others who read The Bottom of the Fox, it suddenly disappeared from Ms. Carroll's inventory.
Ms. Carroll' explanation for why is unconvincing and the suspicion lingers that she has belatedly gotten the message that The Bottom of the Fox is a banned book in the eyes Poconos establishment and she knuckled under.
"I find that to be insulting," Ms. Carroll replied when I told her of my suspicion. Her explanation is that she had started getting used copies of the book and decided to no longer sell new copies.
But that is problematic because the three people I spoke to who tried to buy copies -- in the case of one woman some five copies -- said Ms. Carroll did not offer to sell them used copies.
Who in particular might have pressured Ms. Carroll to take the book off her shelves?
Perhaps they are associates of a woman who is running for a seat on the county Common Pleas Court bench who is married to a state policeman and is the daughter of a deceased district attorney and county president judge who is portrayed in an unflattering light in The Bottom of the Fox. This man wielded enormous power and had rejected petitions to convene an investigative grand jury and coroners inquest into my protagonist's death despite the fact that there was an ax murderer on the loose in the Poconos. Because, you know, the guy was a nobody.
Or it could be any number of other people who are afraid of the truth -- and one little book.