BODY IN THE MOUND
by John Bedell
When archaeologist Jack Gordon starts a dig in the small mountain town of Renovo, Pennsylvania, he is dragged into a murder case somehow connected to an ancient Indian burial mound. As he tries to get on with his work, Gordon is threatened, shot at, and accused of being the murderer himself. To save his career and his reputation, he has to find out himself whether the mound was real, and, if so, who dug it up and what happened to the very valuable artifacts it must have contained. The more questions he asks, though, the angrier the threats against him become, and the greater the danger to his own life.
The Body in the Mound is a tough guy detective story in the tradition of Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler. The first work in a projected series, it is set in 1995. The story is divided between Renovo and Washington, D.C., where Gordon lives and has his office. Future Jack Gordon mysteries will be set in other parts of the country where the author has worked, in whatever part of the past 20 years the author feels like setting them.
The Body in the Mound is available as a Kindle download from Amazon.com for $5.99, and as a print-on-demand paperback from Createspace.com for $7.99 plus s&h.
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Review of The Body in the Mound at Hit or Mystery. Excerpt:
Jack doesn't understand what is going on but he needs to find out in a hurry as he is threatened, shot at, and accused of being the murderer. What ensues is a pretty gritty (literally) struggle to find the truth and the missing artifacts before he ends up in jail or dead. There's lots of local (Renovo) color and locals. This is a fast moving novel and a lot of fun to read. Local archaeologists can read it without worry! John Bedell does know what he's talking about and it holds up pretty well.
For more information on the Adena culture, see here and here; for an interpretation of the social dynamic and spiritual thinking behind the mound-building tradition, see here.
John Bedell has been working in archaeology off and on since 1984. He has a Ph.D. in history and has taught at several colleges and universities, most recently Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. He began his archaeological career excavating colonial sites around Williamsburg, Virginia, but since then he has branched out to work on most of the kinds of sites one can find between New York and Florida. This includes Civil War battlefields, Indian villages, ancient Indian camps, colonial farms, frontier forts, mills, iron furnaces, and other things he cannot remember at the moment. One of his more interesting sites was on Kettle Creek, just down the road from Renovo, Pennsylvania, where he spent a memorable month back in 1994. He currently works for the Louis Berger Group in Washington, DC, where his biggest clients are the National Park Service and the U.S Navy. He is the author of a whole shelf of technical reports, several articles in archaeological journals, and a long list of brochures, pamphlets and popular booklets, some of which are available from the National Park Service and the Delaware Department of Transportation. The Body in the Mound is his first published work of fiction.
Dr. Bedell has a blog, benedante.blogspot.com, where he writes about whatever catches his fancy, and a web site for longer essays, bensozia.com.
March skipped the lamb/lion routine and came in like a wet dog. I was standing in a cold drizzle next to a leafless tree on a mountainside somewhere in Clinton County, Pennsylvania, feeling the water drip off my hat and the wind whipping around my legs, thinking. It had rained six days out of the past seven, ten out of the past fourteen, enough cold water to make it hard to think about anything but finding someplace warm and dry. But deadlines are deadlines, and I’m still in business because I never miss them. So here I was on this mountain in the rain, staring at three pieces of broken quartz that might have been flakes from making stone tools. They looked natural to me, but I didn’t trust myself. It might just have been the sensible part of my brain urging me to keep moving in the direction of shelter. I raised my head to look around, hoping something about the lay of the land would help me decide. What I saw, though, was two cops in green ponchos walking uphill toward me.
Damn, I thought, what now? As if I didn’t have enough problems. First the weather and now the cops. I threw the rocks back on the ground and headed down to meet them.
“Can I help you gentlemen?”
“Dr. Gordon?” wheezed the one in front. He was maybe forty, carrying too many donuts around his middle, his face flushed from the climb.
“I’m Sergeant Willem. This is Deputy Jones. We’d like to talk to you.”
Willem wiped the rain off his face with a stubby hand and said, “Well, let me see. Do you know a man named George Shaefer?”
I knew I’d seen the name somewhere, but I couldn’t place it. “Don’t think so.”
“Then can you tell us why he had your business card in his pocket?”
“I’ve been handing those cards out all over the county for a month now. I give one to every landowner I talk to, and just about anybody else I see.”
“That a fact? You got one on you now?”
“Sure,” I said, and I reached for my wallet. Deputy Jones yelled “Hold on!” and yanked out his gun, pointing it in my face. I froze. A newspaper headline flashed through my head: UNARMED ARCHAEOLOGIST SHOT BY POLICE; D.A. PROMISES THOROUGH INVESTIGATION.
“Take it easy,” I said, “I was just getting my wallet. That’s where I keep my cards.”
“Just go slow, Doc,” said Willem, “We’re a little jumpy.”
“Tough day?” I asked, as I very slowly got out my wallet and showed them the stack of cards.
Jones lowered his gun. “Yeah, you could say that.” I took a good look at him, wondering if he would really have shot me. He was about my height, 6’1”, and a little heavier, maybe 200. He looked like he had been in the Marines not long ago. Jesus, I thought, he might really have done it.
“Say,” I said, “what did this George Shaefer guy do? Kill somebody?”
“No,” said Willem. “Somebody killed him.”
I started to mumble something about what a shame that was, but Willem cut me off. “Anyway, the sheriff wants to ask you some questions. You’ll have to come with us.”
Another afternoon wasted. Damn George Shaefer. Who was he to me? Damn these cops and this whole, miserable week. I yelled to Rick, my field supervisor, to call it a day, and headed down the hill.From Chapter 8
Then I heard a knock on the front door, which turned out to be the D.C. police. Officers Johnson and Meade took my statement without much comment until I mentioned the shot. “A shooting?” said Johnson—or Meade, I forget— “We have to call a detective.” So I waited around some more for the detective, listening to Johnson and Meade talk about basketball and complain about their wives. “It’s gonna be house, house, house until I either give in or get a divorce,” said one. “Know what I’m saying?” “You got that right,” said the other. “Women. They’re like pit bulls. Grrrrr! Grrrr! Once they get their teeth into something, they don’t never let go.”
The detective was a huge man named Isaiah Cummings whose gleaming black suit perfectly matched his bald head. That suit, and the gold tie he wore with it, were probably worth more than my whole wardrobe. He took my statement while the two cops pried out the bullet and dusted for prints.
“So,” he said later, “some guy breaks into your place and shoots at you, and you chase him up the stairs with a damn ax. Then you try to chase his car, on foot, and nearly get run down. Do you have some kind of death wish, or are you just nuts?”
“Man’s got to defend his own office,” I said.
“Do yourself a favor, ok? Next time somebody shoots at you, run the other way. Not toward him. I see too many corpses.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“I’m serious. Being tough doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. Now, do you have any idea why anybody would follow you all the way here from Pennsylvania to throw this junk on your floor?”
“No,” I said.
“But you think it has something to do with a pipeline, or else the murder of some guy you never met.”
“I’m just telling you the things that make this week different from any other week.”
“Usually,” he said, “somebody gets shot at, it’s because of something he does every week.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. He continued, “You keep anything valuable in your office? Any cash?”
“I think there’s about twenty dollars in the petty cash box, but that’s upstairs. Otherwise, just what you see.”
“What was in the locked cabinet?”
“My type collection. Examples of things, for comparison, like one sherd of each kind of pottery, and bones of all the common animals. That’s where I’d keep any valuable artifacts, but I don’t have any right now.”
“You sleep with anybody’s wife?”
“No,” I said. I was getting irritated, but I knew he was just doing his job. Cops treat all crimes as routine because most of them are. And I knew, while I was telling my story, how far-fetched it was.
“Listen,” said Cummings, “I’m going to send a query to the police in —what county did you say?”
“Right, Clinton County. I’m going to call them, and send an official query, but it doesn’t sound like we have much to go on. Here’s my card. If anything else happens up there, like you get shot at again, or they make an arrest, why don’t you call me?”
“Sure thing,” I said. “Say, how can you afford to dress like that?”
“I can’t afford not to,” he said. “The punks don’t respect much, but they do respect it when a man dresses to the top. I need every advantage I can get.”
By the time they had finished it was late, and I was too tired to face the task of cleaning up. I just went home. The next day I did some carving and ran errands. I headed back to Renovo that night sure something bad was waiting for me there, but not having any idea what it might be.