Book covers usually are created after the author has written or at least outlined the story. But the scene Russell County attorney Kenneth Funderburk painted 15 years ago graces the debut novel he self-published this year.
The idea for the "The Fish House Gang" came from the acrylic painting he did of fishermen he saw during a trip to St. Lucia.
"I did memoirs describing all the paintings, and someone suggested I tell some of the story in novel form," he said. "I got to thinking about it and decided it was a good idea. I got started, and it turned out to be a lot of fun."
From more than 40 years of practicing law, he blended his knowledge of money-laundering schemes into a fictional mystery.
"Most of it is based on real events," he said, "but I changed the names."
The title comes from the private gathering of local power brokers in Columbus called the Fish House Gang, which then-Muscogee County Superior Court Judge John Land ruled while he served the circuit for 24 years (1964-88). The group met mostly at Pritchett's on Hamilton Road.
Funderburk wasn't part of that inner circle, but he knew the members and called them "fascinating."
"I take many of the same characters, but mine aren't drunk and they just play for a penny ante," Funderburk said with a laugh. "I use that group to get into some philosophical stuff. They sort of provide editorial commentary on what's going on in the crime world.
"It serves as a literary purpose. It's not part of the story, but one of the members turns out to be getting inside information from the judge and the main investigator."
Funderburk gets a good chuckle out of folks trying to guess which characters are based on which real-life figures. He also mixes into his novel some elements of the case of John Gill, the Phenix City fugitive businessman convicted in Pensacola, Fla., in 2006 of operating an illegal loan company.
"Of course, it's got a little romance in it," Funderburk said, "but it's basically dealing with money laundering on a local level."
He already is working on the follow-up novel.
"The sequel to it is on a national level," he said.
And he has learned to be careful not to make his story too realistic as he pens several drafts on legal pads while on vacation. That's why it took him a few years to finish the first one.
"I didn't want to write a how-to kind of book, so I had to carefully alter things," he said. "The editing actually took me longer than the writing."
As he worked on the novel, Funderburk found joy in the way his story took shape.
"The characters become more organic," he said. "They never follow the outline. They take on a life of their own, and you just have to follow them."
Sort of like his own life.
The 76-year-old Phenix City native has been painting and singing since he was 13 and went off to college to major in art and music, "but I decided I couldn't make a living doing that." He does, however, still sing in the choir at First Baptist Church of Columbus and the Columbus State University choral union.
When he began practicing law in Russell County in 1965, he immediately felt the generation gap.
"I was the first lawyer here who wasn't a Second World War guy," he said. "They tried to treat me rough, but it didn't take. After all, I was from Phenix City. If you didn't watch the other lawyer, he might go out and tell your witnesses they were excused for the day."
Hometown: Phenix City
Occupation: Attorney for Russell County. Also practices law in private firm, Funderburk & Lane, in Phenix City.
Education: Juris doctorate, University of Alabama; bachelor of arts, Howard College (now Samford University); diploma, Central High School, Phenix City.
Family: Wife, Judy, daughter of former Phenix City mayor John Barbee; son, Eric, former Russell County District Court judge, now practices law with his father.
Randall Moss is known around Fort Walton, Fla., as a loud-mouth braggart and a spaced-out petty crook. As he prepares to carry out his dream job, Moss knows he cannot do it alone. He gathers an eclectic group of beer-loving thugs in his backyard to formulate a plan, thinking that nothing can go wrong. Unfortunately, Moss' instincts have never been spot on. Meanwhile, Thomas Reed is busy reflecting on his ability to convince his community that he is a respected businessman instead of a dirty crook without any idea that a gang of men who seem to be ninjas is quietly waiting in the shadows to ruin his day. Moments later, Moss and Reed meet in a hail of gunfire that leaves Reed and his wife dead. As the criminals speed away with their loot, they are clueless that a security camera has captured every moment. Now unwittingly entangled in a covert business run by the Mexican drug cartel and a suspect in a double murder, Moss realizes too late that he is officially in over his head. More murders follow as a police consultant is drawn into a challenging investigation that leads him into a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with a group of determined drug dealers.
HOW TO GET THE BOOK
"The Fish House Gang" by Kenneth Funderburk is available on the Internet through major online distributors. The 176-page paperback is self-published by Archway Publishers. He sold out the first printing of 150 copies and ordered another 50.