Like most any small mountain town, the locals are involved in a number of ways to scratch out a living. For example, the local real estate developer, mayor, and insurance salesman of Gainesville, NC are all partners in a cemetery. And they are excited to have added some neighboring acreage. When opening the ground for their first burial, some Cherokee artifacts are unearthed as well as human remains. That sets in motion of series of state mandates regarding native American relics. The mandates involve local law, archeologists, historians, Cherokee tribal council as well as some federal oversight.
The find also triggers some protests from Cherokee nation. Native activists protest the potential desecration of hallowed ground to the point of disrupting the planned funeral. Upon approach to the burial, the widower assaults Jimmy Panther, the leader of the leader of the protest. But the burial, in another part of the old cemetery, goes on.
Problem is that the next morning, Jimmy Panther is found sprawled on the fresh grave with a bullet hole in his head. Sheriff Tommy Lee Watkins and his deputy Barry Clayton start their investigation with the obvious suspect, the grieving widower.
That appears to go nowhere despite one obvious lie. Barry, who also has 2 jobs (deputy sheriff and 2nd generation undertaker - thus his nickname Buryin’ Barry), follows up on the lie and Jimmy Panther’s background that leads to Cherokee, NC. An old Vietnam buddy (and current Boston detective) of Sheriff Tommy Lee shows up while tracking a Boston-based hit man. And a 12-year old Cherokee boy seems to have run off into the mountains.
What appears on the surface to be entirely unconnected issues eventually come to be tied together where the low hanging fruit are the lucrative construction contracts for a new proposed casino to compete with the current sole Cherokee-owned operation. Jimmy Panther and his #2 end up dead (and one openly presented clue that I will bet every reader misses) bringing unsuspected perps up the ranking of suspects.
A couple weeks ago, my local library set up a table of NC authors where I found JD Rhoades latest book. When I picked up another book at the library, I looked at the table again and thought the jacket blurb was interesting enough to pick up this book. I was pleasantly surprised at the skill of de Castrique to wind numerous clues that really looked like they could’ve happened into a coherent and complex narrative. Characters were fleshed out in such a way that they could actually be real people in a small town and not some former Delta killer leading a quiet life or some other unlikely backstory. Not a long book, 250 pages, that was a decent diversion for a couple days. What surprised me a bit is that this is the 6th Buryin’ Barry novel (all have the term ‘undertaking’ in the title) to go along with 9 other titles. Obviously, de Castrique has a loyal following. I think I just might return when I find a lull and need a well thought out mystery.
East Coast Don