Holiday at hand, Halloween! Mystery Fanfare continues with Crime Writer Halloween Guest Blogs. Scroll back to check them all out and the list of Halloween Mysteries. Today I welcome mystery author Mark de Castrique.
Mark de Castrique is the author of the Barry Clayton and Sam Blackman mystery series set in the Appalachian Mountains and two YA mystery novels. FATAL UNDERTAKING was release October 1, 2010 by Poisoned Pen Press.
MARK de CASTRIQUE:
My new Buryin’ Barry mystery, FATAL UNDERTAKING, wasn’t conceived as a Halloween murder. I’d focused my attention on another holiday, Christmas, in that I wanted to explore the growing problem of Christmas tree thefts in the mountains of North Carolina. Growers may wait twelve to fifteen years for a Fraser fir to reach the desired height and shape, only to have their harvest “rustled” as criminals steal loaded trailers waiting to be hauled, or even strip the back-slope, isolated fields using chainsaws and trucks to make off with a grower’s fifteen-year effort.
But I always like my detective, funeral director/deputy sheriff Barry Clayton, to have a personal stake in his investigations. This usually means I create an inciting incident that draws him into the crime. He’s been shot and wounded at a funeral he was conducting, found his girlfriend’s photo in the wallet of a skeleton uncovered while moving a grave, and had a body stolen from the funeral home, which is extremely bad for business.
I thought having an unexpected corpse turn up in one of his caskets would add a nice twist to his string of dilemmas; so I devised the situation in which one of Barry’s caskets would be out of his control. He loans the Jaycees a casket for their charity Halloween Haunted House, and the President of the Jaycees, playing the role of the rising corpse, gives not only the performance of his life but also the performance of his death.
Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, my own Halloweens weren’t quite so shocking. But, the dirt roads we had to trek to visit scattered houses for trick-or-treating provided plenty of scary moments as animals ran across our path or the wind knocked bare branches together with a sound that a kid’s imagination turned into zombie footsteps. The most horrifying incident occurred one year when two other brothers joined my two brothers and me in our quest for a sugar overload. We cut through a pasture and headed down a grassy slope toward a farmhouse when Jiminy Cricket, the younger brother, fell. “Hey, fellas, I slipped in some mud.”
We went to help the little guy to his feet, but abruptly stopped. What upended him had only the letter “M” in common with mud. Jiminy Cricket had tumbled into a fresh pile of cow manure. A ten-foot radius was the closest we dared approach before the stench overwhelmed us.
Now the kid dressed as the reeking Jiminy Cricket was too young to be abandoned and we were too far from home to send him there alone. Yet, this was Halloween, the one day of legalized chocolate extortion, so we continued making our rounds while forcing him to keep his distance. We carried his bag of candy to each door and would point to him lurking in the shadows like some leper so that we could ask for the extra treat.
His ultimate humiliation: being hosed down in our front yard and having his Jiminy Cricket costume unceremoniously tossed in the trash. Jiminy Cricket may have said, “Let your conscience be your guide,” but on Halloween, forget your conscience and keep your eyes on the ground in front of you.
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