Barry Clayton has left the Charlotte police force to manage his ailing father's funeral home in the peace and quiet of the Appalachian mountains. But Buryin' Barry is an undertaker with a problem he keeps finding unwanted business.
Moving a grave on a snowy mountainside should be routine. No funeral, no procession, no grieving widow to console. Routine until Barry unearths an unexpected intruder, a skeleton lying atop the original occupant. A bullet hole in the skull piques his ex-cop curiosity; the photograph of his girlfriend Susan Miller in the murdered man's wallet makes the case very personal. Suddenly, Barry's life is turned upside down, as Susan becomes the prime suspect.
Joining forces with his pal Sheriff Tommy Lee Wadkins, Barry sets out to find the real killer. But a terrible secret had been buried in that mountain grave and one murder is only the down payment someone is willing to pay to keep it hidden. Barry is torn between discovering the solution to the crime and uncovering a part of Susan's past that could destroy their relationship.
When the killer strikes again, Barry learns that even more is at stake. In a duel of deceit and misdirection, one thing becomes crystal clear. Barry's grave undertaking could very well lead to his own funeral.
The North Carolina mountain country in winter provides the atmospheric setting for de Castrique's second well-crafted mystery to feature undertaker-sleuth Barry Clayton (after 2003's Dangerous Outing). While moving the old grave of Pearly Johnson, Barry unearths a skeleton lying on top of Johnson's casket with a bullet hole in the skull. In the wallet of the victim, Sammy Calhoun, is a picture of Barry's girlfriend, Dr. Susan Miller. As Barry and his friend, Sheriff Tommy Lee Wadkins, dig for the truth, Susan's status as the prime suspect in Calhoun's murder puts considerable strain on her relationship with Barry. The revelation of past secrets that some highly respected citizens would prefer to remain hidden poses an even greater threat to Barry's well-being. Realistic and sensitively drawn characters, including Barry's Alzheimer's-afflicted father, together with a neat plot that builds to a powerful ending, help lift this poignant novel above the common run of regional cozies.
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Poisoned Pen Press
May 14, 2004
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