Anyone who’s read something from my Electricity Nexus feature knows I approached Murder at Teal’s Pond from a similar point of view of the authors David Bushman and Mark T. Givens. Bushman’s written Conversations With Mark Frost, and Givens broke the story that became this book back in 2016 on his podcast Deer Meadow Radio. I’ve been wanting to read this book for that long, if for nothing else to see what it may have imparted onto Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost as he grew up. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to force this into a one-for-one analogy to Twin Peaks, and I’m glad to see the authors also avoided that trap. Bushman and Givens treated this unsolved mystery on its own merit.
For the first twelve chapters, Murder at Teal’s Pond is an unresolvable story of trails going cold. We even get backstory on an earlier unsolved murder that both haunts the lead investigator and comes this close to establishing a pattern. I can see why this case turned into any number of tall tales.
The authors did a great job anchoring the locations in geography and the year this story was from. The sense of scale between Troy and Sand Lake—both between each other and in relation to New York City—gave an excellent sense of place. It was also easy understand how the society of the early 1900s worked without needing to be historians ourselves.
As an added bonus, the book can’t be confused for a work of Peaks-related fan fiction. The locales are their own, and Hazel Drew is not portrayed as an analog to Laura Palmer. This is a story based in verifiable facts, using quotes only as they were written down, and the cast of characters come alive as individuals, whether witnesses, investigators, or Hazel herself.
To be fair, the authors do connect this case to Twin Peaks as part of the show’s origin, but the connections are minimal and early. The story in Murder at Teal’s Pond matches best to Season 1: The supernatural is nowhere to be found, and political overtones fill the place where Catherine, Ben and Josie’s mill plot would be. Which is fitting as the nuts and bolts of this case springboarded the structure of the town of Twin Peaks.
But its most important connection is the unsolved nature of the Hazel Drew case. Reading about the unanswerable myriad possibilities of this case—and seeing them grow and evolve into lives of their own—has me seeing where Frost may have learned the storytelling benefit of dangling more questions than answers. Yet like Frost, Bushman and Givens do not lose track of the fact that Hazel Drew is a genuine person.
From the book’s thirteenth chapter the authors stop recounting what took place on the record, and begin exploring why the trail went cold. And then they investigate the trails that were intentionally closed off. The book turns itself into a story about how the original investigators—and their personal allegiances and aspirations—end up being part of the story in the unwritten margins.
With time comes the luxury of objectivity. Our authors will face no retribution from those in power in the early 1900s. They can make a case for what was really happening, can investigate the conspicuously ignored evidence. And they do just that in the last sixth of the book. It’s a good lesson that an objective viewpoint can’t be achieved when you’re a part of the moment. And it’s also a lesson that the truth can still come out, no matter how many years pass.
The book has value for Twin Peaks fans, sure, and it is a good story on its own merits, but will it be enough for people unfamiliar with the TV show? Technically, I can’t answer that. What I can say is, I feel like I’ve been to Sand Lake, NY. I feel like I understand the forces in play even though I couldn’t see all of them. And I have a good sense why Hazel Drew went to Teal’s Pond that one night.
Murder at Teal’s Pond is published by Thomas & Mercer. Its printed edition is 235 pages. ISBN 978-1-5420-2643-7