Thursday, March 10, 2011


Leaving the mystery aside for a minute, Mark de Castrique's Dangerous Undertaking has one of the most authentic descriptions of dementia and its impact upon the family I have ever read.

The book's protagonist Buryin' Barry Clayton is the former city policeman who has come home to the North Carolina hills to help his family run their funeral home.  His father's dementia is in full bloom.  

In one scene, Barry comes upon his father in Barry's old bedroom with all its memorabilia.  His father is looking at a picture of the younger Barry. 

"'Dad,' I said.  'It's me, Barry.'

"Slowly, he turned around.  He looked at me and smiled the old smile, the one that used to break just before he made some teasing remark.  'My son,' he started, and then faltered as the rest of the sentence left him.  The smile wavered with confusion, and he lifted up his hands to show me the gold-framed photograph he held.  I was eight years old, in my Cub Scout uniform, grinning through two missing front teeth.  That was the son.  He did not recognize the man standing in front of him."

This description surely resonates with any family (such as ours) which has had a loved one face dementia.

And that quote highlights the strength of this book.  The Gainesboro, N.C, people and the people of hills around live and thrive with life and feeling.

"Reverend Pace had been right," Barry says in another place.  "As beautiful as the scenery was, it was the people who mattered.  The people Pace served, the people [Sheriff] Tommy Lee [Wadkins] protected, the people my grandfather and father consoled during life's saddest moments, the people who now looked to me to carry on the tradition my father no longer remembered.  And because he could not remember, I would not forget."

The story itself is complex, but interesting.  A crazed family member kills his own brother and sister and then shotguns Barry. 

This happens as the grieving family and their friends have gathered at the graveside for the interment after their mother's funeral.  

Barry, Tommy Lee, and others hunt for the man, someone they've known all their lives.

And that leads to a complex plot which, in the explaining, might be what I see as the major weakness of the book.  Near the end, this book, like so many others, breaks down, not into stories about people, but into complicated explanations.

Along the way, though, the book sings.

I look at this book with a sort of special understanding.  For almost ten years (what is now more than thirty years ago) my wife and I lived in the Missouri Lake of the Ozarks.  That place, like the North Carolina hills, was caught between two cultures, the hill people (so to speak) and the developers. Then there were the others, people like us, in-between.

A part of the Lake of the Ozarks had become all about money.  But there were still those little old men and women who swore they would never sell their land, who remembered when the Lake came in and flooded their towns and made it necessary to move their cemeteries. 

And when those people died, heirs sold the land so that later, when you drove by, all you saw was quick-serves, gas stations, and rows and rows of boats for sale. 

This book says that kind of development is happening in the hills of North Carolina too.  And that development plays a large part in the murders and the story. 

So I thought this was an excellent book, strong in its people and reasonable in its plot. 

When I first wrote that I was going to read this book, I wrote that it would be my first about Buryin' Barry. (I had read a couple of other books by Mark de Castrique.) 

I looked back in this blog and found that not to be the case.  I had read another Buryin' Barry book, the second in the series.  But I needed the blog writing as a reminder.  I doubt that I forget this book as quickly.


Evan Lewis said...

Dementia sucks. I can see it would be grood grist for fiction, though.

Joe Barone said...

It does suck. We faced it with more than one we love in our family.

My reading of this book is that the book doesn't exploit the problem at all. It just gives an honest, sensitive portrayal of what demented individuals and their families have to face.