Book excerpt

The Witch's Grave

A Fever Devilin Mystery

Fever Devilin

Phillip DePoy

St. Martin's Press

The Witch's Grave
OneNo one expected violence at church, or the dead bodies that soon followed it. Services at Blue Mountain Methodist were among the more sedate in our county. No snakes, no rolling, no wild tearful confessionals, only a covered dish dinner the envy of angels. Panfried corn was my favorite. I knew Mrs. Nichols had taken the barbecue grill into her corn patch, started a hickory fire. She always bent the stalks over until the ears were touching the grill, snapped them off, let them roast for twenty minutes before peeling back the husks. Then she cut off the kernels with a butcher knife into a pan on top of the grill, milked the cob within an inch of its life, added sugar water and cumin. The corn was fried until it had absorbed all the water, covered, and left in the field to rest. The result is why God invented corn."Andrews," I said between mouthfuls, "you've got to taste this."He'd made progress of his own: fried chicken livers all but gone, boiled squash disappearing. With Lucinda gone for the week, it had seemed the perfect time for a visit from my favorite Shakespeare scholar. Pale and blond, he stuck out everywhere he went, though as much because of his odd demeanor as his accent. His friendship had grown to mean more since I'd left Burrison University, though he was my closest colleague when I ran the folklore department there. This was his second visit to Blue Mountain, meant to be a peaceful stay in the hills of Habersham."I can't say much for the content of the service," he muttered formy ears alone, "but if this is Christian food, sign me up."Though raised Church of England in Manchester, Dr. Andrews fancied himself a druid. Still, his assessment of the Methodist worship was accurate. Compared to my friend Hezekiah Cotage's lye-drinking Pentecostal performance--the only other religious ritual he'd attended with me in the mountains--the meeting we'd just seen was designed more to cure insomnia than sin.Regular Wednesday night prayer meeting had been changed to Thursday night in order to dedicate a brand-new addition to the church. I knew about the covered dish dinner and I thought Andrews would enjoy it. The crisp hall in the church basement was too well lit, linoleum floor too shiny, freshly painted cinder block walls bouncing sound everywhere like a bowling ball. Cheap acoustical ceiling tiles were milky, windowless walls bare. The people decorated the place. Though weeknight meetings were more casual than Sunday mornings, most men wore ties; nearly every woman was in a dress. Andrews alone sported a Hawaiian shirt, and I had refused to wear a tie since leaving the university.I could see Mrs. Nichols, across the room, waving and winking. She knew my weakness for her signature dish, wanted to make certain I acknowledged it. Satisfied with my facial display of ecstasy, she returned to her conversation cornering Pastor Davis."What's in the squash?" Andrews asked me, poking it around his plate with a fork. "Onions, I can see that, but what's the sweet? It's like dessert.""Not onions," I began disdainfully. "The Vidalia onion contains more sugar than a Red Delicious apple or a half a cup of honey."Further lecture on the subject was cut short by an explosion of angry voices from the hallway."I don't care if he is your cousin; what he's done is unbelievable!""Able," the woman's voice answered softer, "this ain't the place.""Place! What'd I care where we are? I have a sworn duty.""You have a pig head is what you have.""Well, I guess you'd know about that," Able shot back. "You've got four or five lying around your kitchen.""You leave my brother's work out of it!" Her voice rose."You call that work? Stealing hogs?"The meeting hall had gone silent. Some busied themselves eating or clearing away their covered dish, but most gaped at the closed door hoping to hear more."They don't steal," she said, teeth obviously clenched. "They catch wild swine, and it's hard to do.""We're getting off the track. I'm telling you, my investigation is nearly done, and it don't look good. I swear if he was here at church tonight, I'd ask him about it to his face.""Investigation." She forced out a laugh. "That ain't your job and you know it.""Sugar." Able's voice turned softer. "Don't we have enough to worry about with the way folks talk about you?""That's it." Her voice was muffled; she'd turned away and was leaving."Damn it, Truevine!" Able roared.Footsteps clattered."You get away from me, Able!""Stand still and listen.""Take your hands off me.""Run away, then. I won't chase after you this time!"A door slammed and the hallway was silent."See," Andrews said immediately. "Why can't there be more of that sort of thing in the services here? I'd come every week."Several around us grinned; the hall slowly returned to a semblance of its former character. Dishes were packed; people began to leave."Do you know who they were?" Andrews said, setting down his clean plate on one of the tables nearby."The man was Able Carter, Girlinda's brother." I helped myself to the last of Mrs. Nichols's corn. "The woman was Truevine Deveroe, the boys' sister.""That's right," he remembered. "They had a sister."Andrews knew about the wild brothers from his previous visit to the mountains, but he was better acquainted with Girlinda, SkidmoreNeedle's sturdy wife. He'd visited her in the hospital when she'd been shot, eaten at her red aluminum kitchen table, flirted shamelessly with her seven-year-old daughter.But he didn't know Truevine or Able."Able is the county coroner." I filled my fork. "And Truevine is our local witch."Andrews glared."Seriously." I set my plate down beside his. "She has all the qualities.""There are qualities?""In the twenty-first century," I began, "there is no true folklore left in Appalachia, if our definition remains what it was in the twentieth: anything passed through time and space orally or by direct observation. This owing to the fact that there is no corner of the mountains now untouched by media. This renders all untainted 'true folk' phenomena extinct. Remnants of folk phenomenology linger. Any strange sight after midnight could still be evidence of 'revenants,' kin returned from the grave. Any shy girl with an unusual appearance and a solitary habit may still be called a witch."Truevine Deveroe was a twenty-three-year-old orphan, raven-haired and dark-eyed, a Pre-Raphaelite madonna in oversize dresses and heavy work boots. Her family lived high up on the dark side of Blue Mountain, in a part of the woods even bats and wild swine avoided. Electricity came late to them, and running water was unimportant. Truevine had discovered two deep wells on their property the old-fashioned way. She found a Y-shaped birch branch, held the two ends, and let the third end lead her to water. She closed her eyes, felt the tug on her dousing agent, the simple wooden instrument she'd made, and walked in a trance directly to the site of their first well.She opened her eyes. "There," she told her three older brothers, and they dug.She'd also been accused, as I'd heard it, of milking her neighbor's cows by rags.It's an easy process. Tear an old dress, visit the cows under a fullmoon, rub their udders with the rags, spit on the cows, say a secret phrase if you like, and go home. The next day you may hang the rags on your clothesline, pull on them, and milk will flow into your pail. The neighbor will be surprised his cows give only viscous saliva with a faint odor of tobacco, which farmers may interpret as a certain sign of witchery. Never mind that the same effect is produced when cows are fed a solitary diet of corn husks, a malady easily cured by any veterinarian.All she needed was two or three rumors and a shy heart. It didn't take Truevine long to become the witch of Blue Mountain. She and Able made a pair walking down our streets. She took long strides and stood half a head taller; he walked faster, never looking up, shirttail always untucked, hair disheveled, a loosened tie around his neck. They were Gomez and Morticia Addams in small-town garb, a golden glow in their eyes that only appeared when they were together."People don't believe it," Andrews said, wiping his hands on the front of his shirt, "that she's actually a witch.""Not for the most part," I answered, "but it's amusing to talk about.""Unless you're that girl," he said, looking toward the empty hallway. 
At the end of the Thursday night meeting, climbing into my ancient pickup truck at the church, we were stopped by Girlinda Needle. She was toting a huge casserole dish, emptied of its broccoli soufflé. Wearing a flowered print knee-length dress, she looked more zaftig than usual. Her hair was in a bun, but loose strands were everywhere behind her head, like distracting children vying for attention.She had been married for nearly ten years to my best friend, the town deputy, Skidmore. They were more like relatives to me than my own family ever was. Her face, always flushed, radiated a distress that was rare to her features; unused muscles pulled her mouth in a frown."Hey, sweetie," she said, patting my hip, "where's Lucinda at? You better think about marrying that girl one of these days.""She's out of town," I answered, noting the distraction in Girlinda's eyes. "Be back next week."Under ordinary circumstances she would not have let the matter drop, continuing to grill me about my feelings for Lucinda as I grew increasingly uncomfortable. That night, something else was on her mind."Dev," she managed through tight lips, all her weight on one leg, leaning closer to my ear, "you got to look out for Able. He's been in a stew these past few months, and I think he's got into some kind of trouble.""You don't mean this argument tonight with Ms. Deveroe.""Shoot, no," she laughed. "They fight like that all the time." A wink in Andrews's direction. "Young love. Everything's hot."He looked down."I'll admit when they first got together," she digressed, "I wasn't wild about the idea. She's a strange one, and Able's a mess. But they been dating a good while now, and I've come to see she's just what she is: sweet girl, shy--loves my brother, so she's all right by me.""Something else, then?" I asked her."That's right." She got back on track. "Something to do with his work and he won't talk to Skid about it, says he ain't sure yet.""About what?" Andrews said."Won't say," she whispered, glancing up at the bright moon. "But it must be awful. Concerns a great many hereabouts, he said. It sure give me the shakes, what with him being county coroner and all.""I thought that was like an administrative thing," Andrews said, leaning on the car. "Coroner.""He is a judicial officer," I agreed, "but responsible for investigating any suspicious circumstances surrounding death in general. Originally a twelfth-century office, it existed primarily to maintain records and, I believe, take custody of royal property.""Dev," he complained."Currently coroners determine the cause of death or, if there's any doubt, hold an inquest.""Inquest?" Andrews muttered before he could stop himself.Girlinda shook her head. "Why'd you ask?""An inquest," I continued, "is a process to discover the cause ofany sudden or violent death. Witnesses are called, but suspects are not permitted to make a defense. It's not a trial. Possible inquest findings include natural death, accidental death, suicide, murder--""Can I go home with you?" Andrews begged Girlinda."I ain't the one who started him up. You'uns put something in the shoe bin?" She waved in the direction of the church's collection for the needy, then began her way across the crowded parking lot toward her battered blue truck. "Anyway, you'll keep an eye out!" she called over her shoulder.I assured her with a nod."What's she worried about?" Andrews turned to me."I don't know, but she has a sense about these things.""Shoe bin?" He turned in the direction she'd pointed."Were you asleep during the sermon?" I whispered, failing in my attempt not to make fun of the title, "'I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet'?""My mind did wander," he admitted. "That's what's in the chicken wire bin over there?""All new footwear," I confirmed. "You need glasses."Above our heads bare limbs, silhouetted against a huge moon, were ink spilled across yellow parchment. We listened to the percussion as wind blew across the roof of the church and upward toward the night.Cars pulled out of the lot and farewells receded into the darkness. I watched the empty hall."What are you staring at?" Andrews sidled up to me, following my stare. "Did you see something?""I thought so. Probably not.""Trick of the moon." He headed for the passenger side of my pickup. "The way the shadows move in this wind."I fished in my jacket pocket for the keys. "I guess so."A charcoal cloud covered the moon; wind wheezed like an organ bellows. We heard faint laughter. It was impossible to tell where it came from. Down the road some of the parishioners were walking home, but deeper in the woods, where shadows collected waiting tocover everything, something stirred up the leaves like the sound of running feet. 
Girlinda called me the next evening."Dev," she said, the clamor of her brood in the background, "you heard?"Andrews and I had spent a gloriously worthless day sleeping late, eschewing the shaving razor, cooking, talking about going fishing, napping, watching a Poe film festival on the old movie channel. He was on vacation, after all, and what sort of a host would I have been if I hadn't joined him in his sloth? We hadn't been out of the house."I haven't heard anything.""Truevine didn't come home last night."I sat up and motioned for Andrews to mute the television."Go on.""It's the first night in her life she hadn't been in bed by ten," Girlinda said, her voice unusually high-pitched. "Her brothers were worried at five after, started drinking by ten-thirty. When midnight came, they loaded their rifles and went looking.""How do you know that?""Just listen," she insisted. "All Thursday night and into the wee hours of this morning them liquored-up Deveroe boys scoured the mountain between the church and their house. When the sun come up and they still hadn't found her, they did something they generally try to avoid. They come to our house.""I see.""Two stood in the yard and one kicked at the front door. He was so drunk he didn't realize he had to set down his rifle to knock. Woke us up. Skidmore went to the door with pistol in hand.""The boys are generally harmless," I ventured."You didn't see them boys, Dev," she whispered. "They were armed and agitated. They said Truvy was gone and wanted Skid's help.""Did he go with them?""He pointed out that all three of them had been looking for her and she might be back at home.""So he got dressed and drove them back up to their house," I guessed."Uh-huh," Girlinda went on, "but Truvy was gone. I wouldn't call you about it except that this afternoon the Deveroes apparently heard the story about Truvy's argument with Able at church last night.""Now I understand," I told her, sitting back. "Able's missing, too; is that right?""The first place Skidmore checked after he found Truevine's empty bed was Able's house in town. Nobody had slept there; Able didn't show up at work this morning. They're both gone."I could see in my mind's eye each Deveroe brother coming to a different conclusion: (1) she had run off and gotten married; (2) Able had kidnapped her; (3) Able had murdered her in anger and disappeared. Their solution, however, was unanimous. Able Carter was to die."The Deveroe brothers are out for blood now," she said, confirming my supposition."What do you want me to do?""Find Able, honey. And Truevine, of course." She lowered her voice to a whisper again. "I can't have nobody shooting up my kin, Fever.""I'll do what I can, Linda, but isn't this really a job for your husband?""You help him." That was all.I knew from experience that I could spend hours trying to draw out more facts from her. I took a simpler tack."All right," I promised."And come over to dinner tomorrow night," she said, her voice returning to normal. "Bring Andrews." She hung up.I looked over at Andrews. He was staring at the television trying to read Peter Cushing's all-too-thin lips."That was Girlinda. We're invited to dinner tomorrow." I picked up the remote and the sound of the movie resumed. "Able and the Deveroe girl are missing. We have to find them.""So Linda's premonition was on," he said lazily, still glued to the screen."I hadn't thought about that," I admitted."Maybe they're holed up somewhere apologizing to each other the way I hear some young people do." His eyes drifted my way. "I mean, witchy sex has got to be difficult to pass up."A woman screamed on the television, backing away from a leering Peter Lorre."So do you mind if I do a little looking around tomorrow?" I asked him. "I'd like to help out if I can.""You mean with my being here and on vacation?" He sat forward. "It'll be fun: tromping through the woods looking for Romeo and Ghouliet."The television screamed again."What is this?" My eyes darted to the screen. "There's not a screaming woman in 'The Cask of Amontillado.'""Not as such," he agreed, settling back, "but in great literature the woman is always implied. Speaking of same, where is your sometime girlfriend, Lucinda? You told me, I know; I just don't remember.""Birmingham," I muttered absently, standing. "Hospital thing.""When are you two getting married?" he teased."Shut up; would you mind?""You always avoid the subject.""My parents' union," I said softly, "did little to promote the institution in my eyes, as I believe I've mentioned. What if I had a marriage like theirs?""Fair enough," he said, and let it go.The sun was going down and I thought to open our first bottle of wine for the evening. Out the kitchen window the green of the woods was turning gray, the sky fading into red dusk.The woods were beginning their sunset transformation from all that was stated by daylight into everything the darkness implied. 
Three drunken boys discovered the body next morning. It was broken, dressed only in blood, facedown in a culvert near my home. They stood near the top of the ridge laughing at the naked corpse.I found myself amazed by the casual cruelty of these boys, puzzled and repelled. Their laughter had drawn me from my bed at seven o'clock on a Saturday morning, barely light in the bite of October sunrise.We stood on a path as familiar to me as my dreams. I'd walked it daily when I was a boy, nearly as often since I'd returned to the mountains. Rising up from the other side of the ravine was the behemoth of Blue Mountain, a shoulder against which the sky rested. The path ran along the edge, provided the only way around the mountain. On the other side the land sloped downward to the valley and the town. From where we stood we could already see day spreading silver over lakes, gold onto evergreens. A panic of autumnal loss exploded everywhere; leaves of burgundy and pumpkin and cider made a calico covering for the valley deeps."Thanks for calling, Dev." Deputy Needle zipped his coat. "God in heaven, what a mess.""What killed him, can you tell?" I asked.He shook his head. "Looks like somebody bashed his skull in. Plus he's got a cracked rib--it's all purple; you can see the bone. There's some bits of thread up under his fingernails, like maybe he grabbed somebody. Could be something."I had been staring at the body for nearly twenty minutes. Andrews stood beside me watching strangers swarm a dead man not sixty yards from where he'd slept. Something on my face must have betrayed my thoughts; he took a step closer to me and spoke in low tones."You knew him," he said. "You knew the dead guy.""When I was six or seven," I began, straining to see the ashen face at the bottom of the slope as the deputies turned over the body, "I was walking along this very ridge. With older boys." My eyes darted to the group of laughing teenagers. "About their age."The morning was hard and clear. The cathedral of the sky arched into infinity above us; all the stained-glass leaves filtered sunlight over the ground around us. The deep ravine mimicked the sky exactly the way hell mimics heaven: a nearly equal though darker vision. In those cold shadows three other deputies moved and shifted, not entirelycertain what to do. Murder was a stranger to Blue Mountain."Go on," Andrews prompted me, his accent only slightly out of place against the other voices."We'd been squirrel hunting," I said quietly. "One of the boys, a monster by the name of Harding Pinhurst the Third, found a bird's nest in the lower branches of a dogwood tree." I scoured the ravine, then pointed. "That one there, I think. Look how much bigger it is now. At any rate, he pulled it down and found five eggs. For no reason, he took one out and broke it open on a rock. Instead of runny egg, a nearly formed baby bird, slick and blind, came spilling out. He was delighted beyond reason. He began to poke at the thing with a stick, telling it to fly, shrieking with laughter. The other boys, some of the Deveroe clan whom you may remember from your last visit, were watching."A sudden shock of October breeze sent a shower of red maple leaves toward the ground, raining around the body, echoing the blood."I watched the bird's beak open and close, those blind eyes. I couldn't stand it, grabbed the nest, ran into the woods. I think I was crying. No telling how far away from the others I was when I hid the nest under a pile of pine straw, the remaining four eggs."The policemen finished their work, at least for the moment, and were headed slowly back up the ravine to the path where we stood, finding footholds in ivy and granite. A nod from Deputy Needle and the men standing by the ambulance struggled down the same way, wrestling their stretcher with them as best they could.I blew out a short breath and was surprised to see that it made a ghost in the air around me. I hadn't thought it that cold."I knew I wasn't really saving the eggs," I whispered to Andrews. "Even if they hatched after that, they wouldn't survive. I just didn't want them to be dead with boys standing around laughing. They all called me 'Birdy' after that--for the rest of the school year.""That's not so bad," Andrews offered."You're right." I managed a smile. "When your given name is Fever, what nickname can sting?"Andrews watched the side of my face in the growing morning light."Ask the question," I allowed."Waiting for you to go on," Andrews said with an indulgent sigh. "But all right, why did you tell me your little bird man story?""I had completely forgotten the event." I returned my attention to the corpse. "Until I looked at that. Who was he?""You're about to say." Andrews knew me too well."None other than Harding Pinhurst the Third, dead as I ever wished him."The group of slack-mouthed monsters erupted in unexplained mirth once more."That laughter," I gave one last quick glance in their direction, "is a fitting epitaph for the likes of him.""Able Carter done this; everybody knows it," one of the boys blurted out to a passing policeman. "He get hung for sure--if Deveroe boys don't get him first." The boy was so drunk he was drooling, delirious from an all-night bout with distilled corn and icy air. "He kill that Truvy Deveroe; now he got her cousin.""You don't know she's dead," another beefy boy chimed in, jabbing a fist at the other's arm."She's dead all right. Them Deveroe boys'll kill Able good." He twisted his face in my direction. "What're you staring at, Goliath?"It always struck me as strange that anyone would make fun of my size. I could have broken him in half--were I the sort. Maybe it was the fact that my hair was prematurely white; they mistook me for an older man."That's Dr. Devilin," one of the policemen chided."I'n care," he mumbled, softer. "Big albino freak.""Why is the body naked?" Andrews whispered to me. "And did you know the dead man was the Deveroes' cousin?""Of course." I glared at the drunken boys, willing them to silence. "As to why the clothes are gone, I wouldn't have a clue.""God help Able Carter now," Andrews said, watching the policemen try to muscle the teenagers away from the scene, "especially after what happened Thursday night.""I think that's a little different from what Girlinda and I talked about," Skid finally allowed. "For one thing, she said Able and Truevinehad a lovers' spat. Didn't say it had to do with Harding. Or maybe she did and I wasn't listening."Andrews shivered. He'd thrown on a T-shirt and his black jeans, wandered barefoot out of the house when he heard all the commotion, two hours earlier. His blond hair was a bird's nest; he was nearly a foot taller than anyone else at the scene. He rubbed his arms, stood next to Skidmore wanting to ask a question. They'd become friendly during Andrews's last visit to the mountains, but the deputy was in no way disposed to idle conversation."What is it?" Skid asked, his face drained."Why is the body naked?""I don't know," he answered, irritated."And how did those drunks see it way down at the bottom of this ravine in the middle of the night?" Andrews went on. "Don't you think that's suspicious? Are you holding them?"Skidmore sighed. "It was a full moon and them kids has crawled all over these woods they whole lives. No, I'm not holding them. In fact, I'd like them as far away from me as possible.""But--" Andrews protested."Skid's right," I interrupted. "Those creatures are as cowardly as they are stupid. If they'd killed a man, they'd have vanished. They wouldn't laugh; they'd hide.""I guess," Andrews said reluctantly. "But I don't like what this mess does to our investigation."I had to smile. Our investigation."This does seem to complicate matters," I agreed with Andrews, moving away from the edge of the path into a spot of early-morning sunlight. "Stand over here; it's a little warmer."I watched Skidmore as he walked a few feet from us to sit in the front seat of his squad car. He began working on the initial written report. His squad car radio demanded attention; he talked shortly. After he hung up he looked even more tired. He was running for sheriff in the coming November elections; I thought it was taking a toll. His opponent was a local businessman who enjoyed deer hunting and thought it a significant qualification for the job. That candidacywas supported financially by Jackson Pinhurst, uncle of the deceased. Our Sheriff Maddox had died suddenly--dressed only in a red raincoat and saddle oxfords, in the arms of another man's wife. There wasn't much open discussion of it.Skid deserved to win. No one knew more about Blue Mountain or cared half as much. His spirit was clear and his determination to do right belonged in another century, but the politics wore on him, choosing a slogan, campaign colors, making a list of promises."Dev!" he called, standing up.I yawned."Linda told me she called you last night," he said, tossing his clipboard onto the seat."She wanted me to help find Able.""I know," he complained. "But the thing is you got to stay out of it for the most part. They say it looks bad for me to have help on a thing like this."I felt the word they, in this particular case, meant one Tommy Tineeta, Skid's campaign manager from Rabun Gap."Of course I don't want to get in the way." I smiled. "Tell Tommy I said hello.""That ain't it," he shot back. "Shut up."The hospital employees had gotten the body on the stretcher and were making their way back up the slope toward the ambulance."I just want you to keep a low profile," he concluded."I've come home to do research," I said. "Everyone knows that. They're familiar with the kind of work I'm doing, know it involves talking to everyone. What would be the harm if I asked a few extra questions in the course of my folklore interviews?""Something like that," he agreed."That way Tommy T. won't make your campaign more miserable than it already is.""Mr. Tineeta is a smart man, Dev." But Skid hardly sounded convinced."He's a transplant from New Orleans, he claims," I explained to Andrews. "Sounds more New Jersey to me. Skidmore's campaignmanager." Skid had only hired him in reaction to his opponent's boss. Jackson Pinhurst was our town power broker, Boss Tweed in discount Armani suits, cigar like a smokestack, eyebrows like a hedge."Running for sheriff," Skid told Andrews, shy for some reason."Not a better man in the state for that job," Andrews said, clutching his own elbows. "I'm freezing. I'm going back to the cabin. Can't stop shivering." He looked down the path to my place."This ain't right, Fever," Skid said, watching the paramedics wrangle the body into the ambulance. "I never had to investigate a murder of somebody I knew. Not to mention I have no idea what we'll do with the body after the autopsy.""Call the Peaker family in Rabun County," I suggested."What are you two talking about?" Andrews rubbed his bare arms trying to warm himself, more irritated by the moment. "You have a funeral parlor here in town; I've driven by it.""That's the problem," Skidmore said as the ambulance door slammed shut."Harding Pinhurst," I told Andrews, "was the only mortician we had in this county. The place you're talking about was his."THE WITCH'S GRAVE. Copyright © 2004 by Phillip DePoy. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Phillip DePoy is the author of The Devil's Hearth, the first novel featuring Fever Devilin, as well as five other mysteries. His work has won the Edgar Award and been a finalist for the Shamus Award. In addition to his career as a novelist, he is a playwright, an actor, and a college professor at George State University. He lives in Atlanta.