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Mayhem in Mayberry: Misadventures of a P.I. in Southern Appalachia

As a licensed private investigator in western North Carolina, Brian Lee Knopp could outrun enraged pit bulls, slink unseen and unheard through the tangled forests, and find missing evidence in the bottom of a dumpster. To get the goods on his subjects, he would perch in trees, lie motionless for hours in camouflage, drive rented sports cars and U-Haul trucks, ride horses and bikes, even paddle whitewater kayaks. He could talk his way out of almost every predicament imaginable—except for how to succeed as a P.I. without failing as a human being.

Mayhem in Mayberry is a fearless, take-no-prisoners account of P.I. culture, an unforgettable portrait of personal loss and failure, and a blistering ride through the heart of a Southern Appalachia.


My workaday life demanded numerous confrontations with very unreceptive individuals.
Think of it like this. I was a kind of door-to-door salesman. Only I sold products such as “trouble biscuits” or “financial ruin brushes” or some kind of vacuum cleaner—call it the “Whistleblower Vacuum Cleaner”—that actually spewed filth on the user the more they tried to clean with it. Every week I would knock on a door or call on the phone and say, more or less, the following.
“Hey there, how you doing? Good, I’m doing fine, too. Look, I am trying to involve you in possibly the most sordid, nerve-wracking, humiliating, or costly experience you NEVER wanted to get involved with in your life, to begin with, and CERTAINLY don’t have time to get involved with now. But I was just wondering . . . wouldn’t you feel better if you spent just a few minutes, hours, days, or weeks of your life by telling me, truthfully and accurately to the best of your ability, your recollection of something that happened weeks, months, or years ago concerning folks you either love and protect, or despise and fear?”
I was a bad news salesman. And over time, such salesmanship efforts took a heavy toll.
Think of me as a kind of priest who needed to hear your confession—in order to save someone else’s soul.
Think of me as a form of Silly Putty who could be molded to any shape but still retain the imprint of whatever I heard or saw (the distortions would come out when I wrote my final report). I was a hunter of the most predictably unpredictable species of all. My hours and habits became those of my prey. So intent was I on my pursuit that I did not heed my body’s hunger, or its thirst, or its fatigue, or its spine-buckling urge to pee.
I was anything you wanted me to be. Just so long as you kept talking or kept doing what you were doing.
No matter how exhausted I was . . . I listened. I watched. I recorded. I remembered.

Important places

Asheville (66)


Buncombe (86)


North Carolina (1,570)


United States (64,950)

Other geographical areas

Blue Ridge Mountains (74)
Piedmont (USA) (1,063)
Appalachian Mountains (1,111)
Carolinas (2,142)