Let me tell you, life in Dorset has really changed since the last time I visited with you. That was in connection with The Snow White Christmas Cookie, my ninth adventure set here in Dorset, the picture postcard slice of Yankee paradise that’s situated halfway between New York City and Boston, right where the Connecticut River empties into Long Island Sound. In The Snow White Christmas Cookie it was up to me, Mitch Berger, the man who knows more about obscure old movies no one has ever heard of than any film nerd in America, to solve a seemingly innocuous case of mail theft in the village’s Historic District for my ladylove, Des Mitry.
Des is the Connecticut State Police resident trooper here, and I think it’s safe to say that she’d be lost without me. Okay, I did get whacked over the head with a snow shovel in The Snow White Christmas Cookie and suffer a concussion and almost die of hypothermia when I was dumped on a snow-covered beach, naked, in frigid temperatures by some truly regrettable people. Actually, I would have died if Des hadn’t saved me. We’re kind of a perfect team that way. She can’t solve a case without me. And I can’t seem to stay alive without her.
We’re not what you’d call a typical couple. I used to be the chief film critic for the most prestigious daily newspaper in New York City. I also used to have a lovely wife, Maisie. But Maisie died of ovarian cancer at the age of 30 and my life was very bleak until I moved to Dorset and quit the newspaper. Now I have an antique post-and-beam caretaker’s cottage on a private island called Big Sister. You’d love my place. It has a big stone fireplace and windows that look at Long Island Sound in three different directions. I make my living blogging for an e-zine now and writing funny, offbeat movie encyclopedias that people seem to like. And I’m in this crazy, wonderful relationship with Des, a six-feet-one inch graduate of West Point who, unlike me, is extremely guarded with her emotions. I’m not sure Des even knew how to smile before she met me. She used to be married to a louse named Brandon who cheated on her. Des is a gifted artist. She rescues feral cats. Her smile does warm, strange things to the lower half of my body. Her figure is positively breathtaking. Did I remember to mention that she’s a woman of color and I’m a weight challenged Jew? And that she couldn’t name all of five of the Marx Brothers even if I held a gun to her head? Not that I ever would. She knows at least twelve different ways to kill me with her bare hands and size 12 ½ AA feet. And yet, nutty as it sounds, we’ve fallen madly in love.
I’m starting to jabber. I do that. Sorry. I was going to tell you about how much life in Dorset has changed in recent weeks. It’s the subject of our tenth Berger-Mitry adventure, The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb. So are you sitting down? The village of Dorset has just elected a living, breathing woman as its First Selectman. Seriously. And now she is about to undertake the Historic District’s biggest public works project in a generation – the widening and re-grading of Dorset Street. The job has needed doing for ages but the long-serving previous First Selectman, Bob Paffin, always opposed it. So did a lot of Dorset’s blue blooded old guard, for whom change is a dirty word.
But change may have had nothing to do with their steadfast political opposition. Because it turns out there’s a body buried underneath the pavement in front of the Congregational Church – the skeletal remains of Lt. Lance Paffin, our former First Selectman’s older brother, a dashing U.S. Navy flyer who went missing off his sailboat the night of the country club’s spring dance more than 40 years ago. Lance’s body was never found. Until now, that is. It seems Lance has been underneath Dorset Street this whole time. It also seems that he was, well, murdered. Something nasty happened to him that night at the country club. Something that has stayed covered up for a long, long time. Trust me, we are talking deep, dark Dorset secrets here. And now it’s up to Des and yours truly to figure out just exactly what those secrets are.
Some very, very distinguished lives and careers – including that of a long-serving U.S. Congressman — are on the line. Lives and careers that have been built on a lie that can no longer stay buried. Somehow, we will have to figure out what really happened to Lance Paffin on that warm, starlit spring night long ago. Somehow, we will have to figure out how it’s possible that the truth has stayed a secret for so long. In The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb Des and I will find out a whole lot more about Dorset’s powerful inner circle than we ever knew before. Everyone in town will. And life in this tranquil, New England village is never, ever going to be the same.
Meet the author
David Handler, the master of the witty whodunit, was born and raised in Los Angeles and wrote two highly acclaimed novels about growing up there, Kiddo and Boss, before resorting to a life of crime fiction. He is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Stewart Hoag and Berger & Mitry mysteries. He has also won an American Mystery Award and been a finalist for the Anthony, Dilys and Derringer Awards. Runaway Man, his first novel to feature the feisty 137-pound New York City private eye Benji Golden, debuted last fall. He is currently at work on a sequel. His tenth Berger & Mitry novel, The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb, will be published on March 25 by Minotaur. Mr. Handler, who has written extensively for television and film on both coasts, presently lives in a 200-year-old carriage house in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
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