Mildred Davis is the author I ‘discovered’ recently. Somehow I passed her by all these years. So, I read her Edgar Award winning first novel, and was not as impressed as I had thought I’d be–maybe too much expectation on my part, but there was a romantic attachment within the story that just didn’t ring true to me. It was interesting enough for me to explore her other titles, and with her second, I hit gold. The setting for They Buried a Man could be right out of a Saturday Evening Post magazine cover painted by Norman Rockwell. And just as surface deep.
“Everyone on Old Post Road heard the scream of the ambulance, A streak of red and silver, it careened out of the fire house, skidded on the icy pavement, and headed for the bridge. First there was the ambulance then the sedan swerving to avoid it, and then the soft crying of the frightened child.—- every throat seemed held by the same fear.
,…..ran a panic-stricken woman. She tired to form a name with tongue and palate and found both out of order, Her shallow face was sick with fear. Then she stopped like a bird shot down in mid-flight. What stopped her was the sight of the small small bundle of oilskin, galoshes and slush perched on the edge of the road and crying.
……for a moment he didn’t know what it was about it that chilled him. It was the same bridge he had seen all his life. Then he noticed the slight change, on one side was a neat hole in the railing.
…..a small boy–poorly dressed; he had holes in his rubbers through which the sleet oozed like the earth’s pus. His hands were raw and red.
“I saw the accident,” a woman’s voice rasped suddenly.– “It’s your fault”– . .. the boy shrank back, his eyes swimming in anguish. Hiding his swollen hands in his pickets, he made no attempt at defending himself. ”You walked out on the bridge without looking and the driver crashed into the other car to get away from you.”
The boy gave a low animal moan; he pushed backwards, slid on the ice, and fell over. Crying now with pain, he darted up the road, one leg dragging behind.
…..Dick couldn’t keep his eyes off the foam below. What a cold way to die.
…..”he’s dead doc, he’s dead. …words that ended everything. Words without reprieve.”
“They buried a man a year ago. A man Little Forks knew and loved for nearly half a century, a man who would mend your fences or give you free medicine or hop out of bed in the middle of the night to take you to a hospital. A man who, if he gave you a prescription you couldn’t afford, would say, ‘The first one is on the house.” They buried a man a year ago, but they couldn’t bury all the threads with which he was tied to the people he left behind.”
Thus the novel begins setting the stage for the engrossing character driven mystery told in the third person by different people and their viewpoint regarding the deceased. After the pharmacist, Selwyn Bowman, dies in that accident, a reporter decides to re-examine a long buried murder of a prominent banker, Ernest Lovejoy. Bowman was the prime suspect at the time, and although his friends publicly defended him, they privately believed he was guilty. This undercurrent of suspicion is revived when Gunnard Kerr begins interviewing leading citizens of Little Forks who recall an unselfish, caring friend who would give his all for each and every one of them. If he had killed Lovejoy, they all state, Lovejoy had it coming and Bowman rid the town of a very bad man.
Ms. Davis’ ingenious way of relating the story sends the reader on a road of discovery. Uncovered personal secrets, furtive actions, and sexual liaisons begin to unravel an unimaginable conclusion both to the murder, and about the man they just buried. A superb read that will hold you page after page until you too learn all there is to know about the town of Little Forks and Selwyn Bowman.
Don’t forget to check out the entire list of Best 100 Mysteries of All Time