Basements, Bodies, and Mountain Lions, Oh My!

11th Hour Gultch, mentioned in Open for Murder

Amateur sleuths are fearless, and luckily so. Authors put them in positions that a regular person might run away from. A crash in an empty basement? Easy peasy. A dead body in a dark alley? No problem. A mountain lion in the middle of the forest? Uh. . . . It’s a situation my sleuth, Zo Jones, faces in the third book of my Happy Camper series, Mining for Murder. So imagine my surprise when a mountain lion crossed my path last week on a trip to the Black Hills.

I wish I could say I channeled my inner Zo, that I was calm and at peace with my surroundings. Reader, I was not. I picked up my dog and hoofed it up the hill!

Plaque on big cats. Of course, I read it AND took a picture.

Having written about a mountain lion, I had done some research on the animal. There are about 300 big cats in the Black Hills, and when I say big, I mean between six and seven feet long and 150-200 pounds. They shy away from people, and while they can attack humans, they rarely do. All of these facts didn’t ease the terror in my heart when I saw the enormous, tan cat with its muscular body and thick tail. Ironically, I had just read a plaque about the cat—out loud to my husband—because teachers do things like that, especially when we’re on a hike and see a plaque. Luckily, my kids were back at the cabin, watching a movie. Otherwise, I might have grabbed them too, and my dog is heavy enough.

A Mountain Lion! Which is to say, RUN.

My husband, who happened to be taking a photo of me on a bridge at the time, kindly snapped another as I pointed to the mountain lion, which had just darted behind him. In my defense, I wasn’t as scared as I look. I was, ahem, following the advice I had read about in my research. I learned if you see a mountain lion, you should make yourself as big as possible (never crouch down), keep eye contact, make noise, and don’t run or mimic prey. I did keep eye contact—right up until I ran up the hill!

In the mountain lion’s defense, he didn’t chase us or even look at us. He simply slunk back into the woods. The fear I felt stayed with me long after he left, however, and I’m sort of glad it did. Every time I write a scene, it will help me realize the dangers my sleuth faces and the courage it takes her to overcome them.  Yes, cozy mysteries are light and relaxing, but amateur sleuths are fierce and courageous. I might not be up to the task of facing a mountain lion, but Zo certainly is, and that’s another reason I admire her and the genre.

Homestake Mine, Lead SD. Zo faces danger here in Open for Murder.

What do you admire about cozy mysteries? What do you like about amateur sleuths?



  1. Judi Lynn on March 29, 2021 at 10:57 am

    It’s a good thing your dog was with you and not running around loose. He’d be the perfect mountain lion snack. I think the cats are some of the most beautiful, but I wouldn’t want to meet one in the wild:)

    • Mary Angela on March 29, 2021 at 4:29 pm

      I know! I was scared for my little Brownie.

  2. Dena Kittelson on March 29, 2021 at 7:20 pm

    What an amazing story with a happy ending…gratefully. That is taking book research to another level!…perhaps a bit too far. I guess when the opportunity is in front of you, you take it, ready or not!

    • Mary Angela on March 30, 2021 at 9:18 am

      Thanks, Dena! Who knew writing a cozy mystery could be so dangerous?!

  3. Dru Ann on March 30, 2021 at 7:32 am

    Glad your encounter ended safely.

    • Mary Angela on March 30, 2021 at 9:19 am

      Thank you, Dru!

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