Pegau weaves local history and intrigue into new mystery-thriller

Cordova author’s latest novel serves up conspiracy, local history and a suffragette heroine who solves the murder

Author Cathy Pegau gets ready to sign a copy of her book, Murder on Location, a fictitious, murder-mystery novel set in 1920s Cordova in March 2017. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

Local mystery-murder author Cathy Pegau held a booking signing and talk March 23, featuring the third, and latest novel in her Charlotte Brody series, Murder on Location, which was released by Kensington Publishing Feb. 28.

The event was held in the Copper River Gallery at the Cordova Center, and hosted by the Cordova Historical Museum.

Pegau read an excerpt from Murder on Location to the audience of about two-dozen people, then answered questions posed by fans.

Murder on Location, by Cathy Pegau
Photo courtesy cathypegau.com

Murder on Location is set in 1920s-Cordova, as are the previous two novels, Murder on the Last Frontier, and Borrowing Death.

In the Alaska Territory, suffragette Charlotte Brody is a newspaper reporter in the frontier town of Cordova. She’s a woman ahead of her time, living on the rugged edge of civilization – but right now, the most dangerous element she faces may come from sunny California, reads the back cover flap.

Although the novels are fictitious, they’re centered around Cordova. Longtime area residents will recognize historical locations in the books.

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In this story, a film crew straight out of Hollywood arrives in Cordova to film a movie called North to Fortune, an epic motion picture which features authentic footage of the area’s surrounding mountains, glaciers, locals, and indigenous Alaskans. The tension builds when the outsiders misrepresent local Natives, and their culture, in the movie. Fights break out, and the cast and crew suffer unexplained accidents. Production is halted when a drunk director falls into a glacier crevasse, and dies from exposure. The coroner suspects murder and the heroine, Charlotte, finds herself trying to solve a cold-blooded murder while covering the crime for The Cordova Daily Times.

“Writers are often asked where we get our ideas. For the Charlotte Brody mystery series, my answer has been, ‘Local history.’ For each book, I gleaned some bit of Cordova’s past and worked it into the story, with literary and artistic license, of course,” Pegau said.

The inspiration for Murder on Location, and its film-within-a-book, North to Fortune, was the 1924 silent movie, The Cheechakos.

“This was the first full-length movie filmed entirely in Alaska. The man responsible for it, Austin “Cap” Lathrop, had hoped his film company, Alaska Moving Pictures, would produce more, but The Cheechakos was its only distributed work,” she said.

Pegau and her daughter, Cori Pegau, attended a local screening of The Cheechakos while she was mulling over the premise for the third book.

“Cori suggested I have someone die during the filming of a similar movie, and Murder on Location was born. The idea of a Hollywood, California, crew experiencing Alaska sounds like a fun way to stage a murder, don’t you think?” Pegau said.

Author Cathy Pegau signs a copy of Murder on Location, for Barb Jewell, one of some two-dozen other people, who attended the book signing and author reading in the Copper River Gallery, at the Cordova Historical Museum March 23.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

During the book signing, Pegau spoke about societal and racial injustices perpetrated toward Alaska Natives and Native Americans, a topic which she weaves into Murder on Location. The Alaska Eyak Council (AEC), a fictitious group, plays a vital role in the book.

“I consider the AEC to be a semi-formal Native group concerned with the proper and equal treatment of Natives in education, employment, civil rights. I say semi-formal, because while they meet regularly and have officers, they are still growing and establishing themselves as a recognized organization. Their contact with lawyer Caleb Burrows over the portrayal of Natives in the film, was one of their first official stands,” Pegau said. “Again, this is fiction. I didn’t model them after any particular group that was around at the time, though I did get some ideas from later groups.”

One of the books Pegau studied while researching the latest novel was, Sold American, The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land, 1867-1959: The Army to Statehood, by Donald Craig Mitchell.

Sold American is an account of the history of the federal government’s relationship with Alaska’s Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut peoples, from the United States’ purchase of Alaska from the czar of Russia in 1867 to Alaska statehood in 1959.

“Although Murder on Location is fiction, the idea of Native Americans being treated unjustly is factual. There was so much of it. Children were taken from their homes and forced to attend boarding schools far from home, beaten for speaking their own languages, misinformation was spread, and the treatment of Native Americans was horrible. It’s mind-blowing to me,” she said.

Becoming an author wasn’t Pegau’s first career choice, although she said there were stories in her head since she was a kid.

At first Pegau became a wildlife biologist.

“I thought the arts, while enjoyable, was not the way to make a living, so I went into science. Plenty of prosperous biologists wandering about in the woods, you know. Obviously, money was not high on my list of job perks.”

When Pegau’s children were little, a friend told her she was going to write a book. Pegau thought that sounded like a good idea and she decided she’d take on writing, too – something she could work on while she was at home, raising kids.

The idea worked, and Pegau has authored and published several books in other genres, in addition to the Charlotte Brody mystery series.

Following her marriage to her husband, Scott Pegau, now with the Prince William Sound Science Center, the couple lived in Oregon. Then he was offered a job in Alaska.

“We jumped at it,” she said.

Book signings and author readings initially make the author nervous, but no more.

“When I see all the friendly faces, I know it’s going to be just fine. Cordova has been very good to me, and I appreciate the amazing support of the community,” she said.

Will there be additions in the Charlotte Brody mystery series?

“I hope so! I have several more Charlotte books in my head, but that’s up to my publisher,” Pegau said.

The series to date is available for sale at the Cordova Historical Museum, Kensington Books, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

To stay up-to-date with news, book releases and other information on the author, visit Pegau’s website at 

http://cathypegau.com.

Area residents wait to have author Cathy Pegau sign copies of Murder on Location, the most recent book in the Charlotte Brody murder-mystery series. The book signing was held March 23, in the Copper River Gallery, inside the Cordova Historical Museum.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times
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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson
Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.