Protagonist Barry Clayton has returned home from several years of police work to help with the family funeral business. His father has Alzheimer's and decisions have to be made. While attending business at the graveyard with a local minister, grave diggers unearth a murdered corpse on top of the burial vault they had come to move. The corpse is at least eight years old, but a wallet in the murdered man's pocket reveals a photo that shocks Barry--it is of his girlfriend, Susan.
Susan immediately becomes a suspect in the murder, and Barry is drawn into an "unofficial" investigation to protect her and her family from scandal. As he develops clues from Susan's father (a retired accountant) and her aunt (a news executive at a nearby city TV station), Barry suspects a political sex scandal in his home town. This makes him wary of several members of the local police force. Throughout this, Barry gets shot at and beat up, and must continue his mortician work. He also must decide if selling the business to a national funeral home chain is in the best interest of his family.
This report prepared by K Cheatham
Poisoned Pen, June 2004, 24.95, 276 pp.
When his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Charlotte police officer Barry Clayton leaves the force and returns to Gainesboro, a North Carolina mountain town. He helps his parents and his uncle run the family business, the Clayton and Clayton Funeral Home. He is there when Pearly Johnson's coffin is exhumed so it could be moved to the family plot. State Senator Richards paid a lot of money to be buried in Pearly's plot, which is next to Caleb Turner, a Union sympathizer.
Before they reach Pearly's coffin, they discover the skeleton of another man on top of the coffin, a bullet in his head. A wallet is found with four hundred dollars and a picture of Barry's girlfriend Susan Miller. They identify the body of Samuel Calhoun, a private detective who was buried with the gun of Susan's father. Both Susan and her father become suspects in the death of this sleazy blackmailer. When Barry makes inquiries, he is shot. Still he thinks the killer is someone in the justice department and Barry and his friends better find out who it is before someone else dies.
Mark de Castrique has written an exciting regional mystery that gives readers feeling of what it is like living in a small southern mountain town. The protagonist is a hero in the truest sense of the word as he gives up his job to take over the family business that means everything to his mother and uncle. He's patient with his father, tries to protect his girlfriend, and find a murderer. GRAVE UNDERTAKING shows the importance of the funeral home in the community as neighbor helps neighbor in time of need.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner