Professor Emeritus Sandy Moffett releases debut novel “The Ghost of Craven Snuggs”


Owen Barbato

Moffett’s novel is a murder mystery set in a fictionalized Iowan county.

Taylor Nunley, Staff Writer

Grinnell College’s Professor Emeritus Sandy Moffett is no stranger to the creative process. Before retiring, Moffet taught in the theatre, dance and performance studies department, directing a number of plays and working with students on their writing and performing. Coming out of the pandemic in 2020, he took on the endeavor of crafting his first novel: “The Ghost of Craven Snuggs -— A Midwestern Murder Mystery.” 

Set in the fictional county of Nachawinga, Iowa, this debut book tackles big issues. The story opens with the death of Craven Snuggs, a farmer who seemingly perished when his house and barn were set on fire. Turning to the story’s main conflict, Moffett introduces the three dead bodies of executives of large meat-processing plants, each found in a hog lot they own. The linking piece? All of them had their portraits go missing before their gruesome death — and the governor’s has just gone missing, too. 

Terrified, the governor calls all law enforcement to personally protect him, sending the investigation of the hog-lot murders to a halt — until Patrick Kavanaugh, sheriff of a small three-person police department, takes action himself. Shawn Gallagher, a leading animal studies professor at the state university who opposes large-scale meat production, and Amie Greene, his former student, volunteer as deputies. But, as the three of them investigate this seemingly hopeless case, they realize the connection between the murders: Snuggs’ old, decrepit pick-up truck has shown up at the scene of all of them. Can Craven Snuggs, the irritable farmer who detested large-scale agricultural farms and died years earlier, be involved somehow? 

Moffett’s novel uses satire to address pressing issues affecting Iowa today, like the prevalence of big companies taking over the agricultural industry and pushing out small farmers, a phenomenon dubbed “Big Ag.” Although Moffett holds these issues close and hopes to make a point through his story, he insists that “The Ghost of Craven Snuggs” is a novel first. “The main point was to write a book,” he said. “I’ve never written a novel before. I’m just gonna see if I can put some of these ideas together and write a novel.” 

Moffett said he had never committed to writing until after his retirement. He started out with short stories, testing the waters, before the pandemic came along and obliterated any previous sense of normalcy. “It kind of limited what we could do,” he said.

However, Moffett adapted. He participated in sharing his work with other writers through technology. “We had a kind of pandemic Zoom. We would write something and read it to someone else. I had this idea, this novel, and I thought there might be some short stories in it. I really started out by just writing some chapters,” he said. These chapters were the starting point for the finished novel today. 

Moffett emphasized how much he enjoyed the process of writing his novel. “The characters really do take off on their own.” In fact, they took off so much that he has a second novel in the works. “It’s in the same location and has some of the same characters. It’s not a sequel, but it’s very concerned with conservation and what we’re doing to our land in Iowa.” 

With a topic as controversial as “Big Ag.,” Moffett expects some to disagree with his sentiments. “I think probably there will be a fair number of people who don’t like what I’m saying about Big Ag. But that’s the breaks,” he said. 

“The Ghost of Craven Snuggs — A Midwestern Murder Mystery” was released on Oct. 1, 2022. Copies are available for purchase at the Pioneer Bookshop on 933 Main St. in Grinnell.