Local author hopes mystery novel heavy on Kentucky culture can reach college-age readers


Local author F.J. Messina’s book series The Bluegrass Files features two female private investigators who are based above Magee’s Bakery, a local Lexington restaurant. Photo provided by F.J. Messina

Very few members of Lexington’s book-reading college crowd know of the murder-solving private investigators who have set up shop above locally loved Magee’s Bakery. Local author F.J. Messina wants to change that.

Messina, who began writing fiction after he retired from his job in the Fayette public school system, wants his self-published Bluegrass Files mystery series to reach the ever-elusive college-age demographic— a group that he said most mystery novels fail to break into.

The Bluegrass Files, which first began to be sold locally earlier this year, follows two female private investigators who seek to solve the mysteries, misdeeds and mayhem that occur around the city of Lexington. At the same time, they’re competing against a male private investigator who poses as professional competition and later as a romantic interest.

“There’s this sort of professional competition, and of course, the star of the book, Sonia Vitaly, is a very attractive Italian-American woman, he’s a hunky marine, you can guess where that all goes,” Messina said.

The book series, which will eventually become a trilogy, takes readers to locations that would be familiar to locals of all ages. In the first book, titled Down the Rabbit Hole, Sonia Vitaly frequently passes by locally favorite locations as she seeks to solve a mysterious occurrences that begin on a local horse farm.

“The book is littered with local landmarks, throughout the book the private I’s pass by the castle on Versailles Road,” Messina said of the first book in the series. “At another point, Sonia goes on a date at Joe Bologna’s, at another point she slips into Charlie Brown’s for a drink.”

Messina said that he hopes the book’s local flavor might help put the book in the hands of younger readers. He said that people who tend to read murder mystery stories with a little romance are mostly women older than 55.

Younger, university-aged readers don’t tend to think about mystery novels when they consider leisure reading, he said. But other authors who have gotten college students to pick up their mystery novels have found that the college students usually become very avid fans. Younger readers “like this kind of book,” Messina said. “They just don’t think to pick up that kind of book.”

Messina said that writing about local locations has helped boost the sales of his book in general. Most self-published books, he said, sell about 103 books over the course of their shelf life. Messina released his first book in March, and by mid-September, he’d sold 450 copies. The second book was released in September and in less than a month, it had sold 70 copies.

For years, Messina worked in the Fayette County Public Schools’ main office on Main Street, which sits across the road from Magee’s. He helped local teachers improve their fine arts instruction, and he liked to meet the teachers he was working with in his office, but unfortunately his office was a cramped. So instead he told them to meet him at “his office.”

“They knew that ‘my office’ meant Magee’s,” Messina said.

Messina said the books are set in Lexington, in “very real places.”

“People have responded to that very strongly,” Messina said.

He said he wanted to self-publish because by simply sending his book off to a publisher, it would have extremely low chances of even being read.

“So chances are my book’s going to die on my computer, right?” Messina said.

Messina, who had no previous fiction writing experience, said the local angle also really helped him better visualize the scenes that he was writing. He said he wrote the novel by simply “watching the movie” and writing down what he saw. Then he would bring his copy to his friend Edie Maddux Torok, who would help him edit.

“Most writers learn to write, then they write their first novel,” Messina said. “I wrote my first novel then I started to learn how to write.”

The third installment of the Bluegrass Files should be released around the beginning of next year, Messina said. The books can be bought on Amazon, Joseph Beth or the Gift Box, a local gift shop that have jumped at selling Messina’s books.

“Four and a half stars on Amazon, I’ll take it,” he said.