Saturday, October 10, 2009

Here's where to stash the vic

Tangled cedar logs on the rocky shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. (Photo by David Braithwaite)

One of the vital tasks for a mystery writer who bases his settings on reality is to locate good places to hide dead bodies.

In the past I've been able to tramp all over Ontonagon County, the area in the west of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that serves as the basis for my fictional Porcupine County, and find splendid sites to stash stiffs.

But now I'm a gimpy geezer and my mobility is limited. My days of strenuous hiking through the deep wilderness lie in the distant past. What to do, then?

Trust to serendipity.

Last summer the Lady Friend took long power walks west on the Lake Superior shore for exercise, and on one of them she met a retired psychologist named Barbara Braithwaite, who with her husband Dave lives in a house on the beach.

Dave is a park ranger retired from a long career in the nearby Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park -- the Wolverine Mountains in my novels. He is also an accomplished wildlife photographer (his pictures of loons make me gnash my teeth in envy). And, marvel of marvels, he likes to help out mystery writers.

I told Dave of my problem: A serial killer stalks a deer hunter through the snowy December woods to the lake shore, drops him with a single shot, and secretes the body where searchers are unlikely to find it until the spring thaw. I needed a good place for that, not so much to render the setting believable to the expert reader but to be able to describe it in detail. (I'm not that imaginative.)

Dave came up with the perfect site -- deep inside a tangle of cedar logs, piled up as a windbreak by backpacking campers, in the trees hard by a rock outcropping that lines the shore between the mouths of the wild Big Carp and Little Carp Rivers. And he had taken a photograph of it.

Did I say perfect? Before and after the winter freeze, the wild lake would send high waves crashing through the logs, sluicing away clues that would help forensics investigators determine cause of death and deepening the mystery for Sheriff Steve Martinez.

Dave had also photographed the two-bunk wilderness cabin at Mirror Lake in the park's interior, a suitable place for my serial killer to lie in wait until the victim ambled past. The park trusts hunters who rent its cabins to close them up every November 30, and they aren't visited again until February when the rangers snowmobile in to shovel the deep snow off the roofs.

This is all I need to get me off the dime and back to work on Hang Fire. Thanks, Dave.

The two-bunk cabin at Mirror Lake deep in the interior of the Porkies at the end of January. (Photo by David Braithwaite)

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