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Former Laurel resident uses hometown in murder mystery novel

Former Laurel resident uses hometown in murder mystery novel

A flip of the novel's first page opens a window into the summer of 1986 in Laurel. People shuffle in and out of the Laurel Centre Mall, teenagers pack the house at the two-screen Laurel Twin Cinema and a school bell rings at a younger, sleeker St. Vincent Pallotti High School.

The only difference in the town's setting is the presence of a murder mystery, stemming from the mind of former Laurel resident Teddy Durgin in his first fiction novel, "The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor."

A senior editor for professional association management company Smith Bucklin and East County Times film critic, Durgin, 45, adds "author" to his list of works after relinquishing his story's twists and turns to audiences on June 12 when his book was published.

The story follows the fictional characters Sam Eckert, an unpopular high schooler, and his friend, Chip Roundtree, as they embark on a quest to solve the murder of a popular classmate and cheerleader, Muffy McGregor, in hopes of gaining cool crowd status.

"I've always had ideas of writing novels or starting novels, but there's the classic case of starting them and life happens, so you stop or it didn't quite work," Durgin said. "I always had this one story in my mind and it was a lot based on my growing up in Laurel."

Durgin said he and his family moved to Laurel in 1977 when he was 6 years old, where he attended O.W. Phair Elementary School, which later closed in 1979. Durgin spent his middle school years in private school, but returned to Laurel in 1984 as a freshman at Pallotti High.

"I was one of those people who worked at the old Laurel Centre Mall," he said. "The main character, Sam, works for an old chain that's not there anymore called 16 Plus. It was a chain of small stores for plus-sized women. I actually used my experience working there in the summer of 1986."

Other amenities were available in surrounding areas in 1986, like Columbia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Annapolis, Durgin said, but Laurel had "everything you could want" in a small suburban town, including chain and independently owned shops and restaurants, a variety of housing and the historic district on Main Street.

When he and his family moved from Laurel to Wake Forest, N.C., in 2014, Durgin said he began missing his hometown, while witnessing nostalgia for the 1980s and the growing popularity of murder mysteries in the community. By combining those forces, Durgin ventured back in time with his characters, dipping back into his own childhood memories of Laurel.

Director, producer and screenwriter John Hughes served as a muse for Durgin, who drew inspiration from classic high school-centric films, such as, "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club," "Weird Science" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

In addition to pop culture references, Durgin said the story includes nods to other local areas in Prince George's and Howard counties, such as the Mall in Columbia.

"Anybody who grew up in Laurel and Columbia would get stuff out of it," he said. "They always say, 'Write about what you know.' I grew up in the '80s, worked at Laurel Mall, I love mystery novels and movies and I thought I could craft a story out of this."

Durgin said he also used the Laurel History Boys' website for further detail into the city's history, describing the site as a "treasure trove of old photos and memories."

Specializing in Laurel's history alongside Pete Lewnes and Kevin Leonard, one of the Laurel History Boys, Richard Friend, who created the Lost Laurel website and published a book on Laurel's vanishing retailers, said Durgin's book provides the community with another format to soak up the town's history.

"It's certainly not a reference book by any means, but the things that he mentions, you can tell he's done research," Friend said. "He points out these places that kids and adults alike experienced at that time, like the Harmony Hut music store in the mall. On every other page, there's a reference to something that you knew in '80s Laurel."

As a history lover, specifically Laurel history, Friend said the book makes for an interesting and exciting read, especially for those who remember a younger Laurel.

"[Durgin's] found a way to make it not just in the setting of Laurel in 1986, but also feed in these little cultural references that I think will be relevant to anybody whether you grew up in that time or not," Friend said. "I was a freshman at Laurel High School in 1986, so it really resonates with me, being a kid and what they're going through. It's just like a time capsule of that period."

Once he completed months of research, outlining and character analysis, Durgin said the story spilled onto the pages, and now he's just pleased with the audience's overwhelming response from online sales.

"It was a neat feeling to have a story like this in my head for so long and then to have it now out in the world," he said. "It's like having kids and getting them out into the world. Once they're out into the world, they're not entirely yours. It's selling pretty well so far, which is great to see."

Other Laurel adventures may come, Durgin said, with another goofy title and more '80s culture.

"I definitely have one other story in my head along the same vein," Durgin said. "If this kind of takes off, I think it would be smarter to see where this goes first. It's a fun niche. The '80s were a fun time to grow up and it was a fun time to look back on."

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