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Cynthia Riggs Profiles
Mushrooms and Mystery on Martha's Vineyard
Mystery author Cynthia Riggs stands in the front hall of her ancestral home.
Mystery author Cynthia Riggs stands in the front hall of her ancestral home in West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard. Photo by Stephen Wesley.

Mushrooms and Mystery on Martha's Vineyard
By Stephen Wesley for The Quill, monthly newsletter of The Inkwell Bookstore

She has been called a cutthroat, killer, massacrer, executioner, slaughterer, and a slayer of islanders. With this in mind you can understand why the rumors surrounding mystery author Cynthia Riggs are wide and varied. After spending some time in her ancestral home “Cleaveland House” which was built by her ancestor James Athearn, a judge during the Revolutionary War, I was able to separate the fun facts from the fiction.

In regard to the rumor that she has skeletal remains in her home...the answer is yes. Underneath the portrait of her grandfather, whaling Captain James Cleaveland, there lies a whale bone caught by his crew. Above the portrait is the family Japanese ceremonial spear inlaid with mother of pearl. A gift to the Captain on an excursion to Japan.

When asked about the rumor of her raising poisonous mushrooms Ms. Riggs responded, “Well, I’ll be swashbuckled, I’ve never heard that one before.” Her father Dr. Sydney Riggs had attempted to grow edible mushrooms in the basement of Cleaveland House. The idea of poisonous mushrooms, or amanitas, being grown by Cynthia Riggs could stem from two places. First, she is a an avid gardener and self sustainer raising everything from grapes and raspberries to Swiss chard and butternut squash, as well as tomatoes from the deadly nightshade family. Also, poisonous mushrooms are used as the “modus operandi” for the murderer in her fifth novel “Jack in the Pulpit.”

Finally yes, she was given a key to the city of Butler, Alabama but has unable to find the lock. She does raise bees, but they are not killer bees. The honey is combined with that of other farms on Martha’s Vineyard under the label of Katama Honey; a great way to sweeten a cup of hot tea while reading about the exploits of 92 year old sleuth Victoria Trumbull.

- Mushrooms and Mystery on Martha's Vineyard first appeared in the December 2009 edition of The Quill. It is reprinted here with permission from the author Stephen Wesley and The Inkwell Bookstore.

©2018 by Cynthia Riggs