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I write novels, novels about desperate people and the crimes they commit. Most often, those crimes result in somebody’s death. In my novels I also write about the consequences of those deaths on those who remain. Thoughts about the unexpected cessation of life came to mind while wandering recently through a Colorado town cemetery.

Established in 1888, the rusty fading sign arched over the track reads High Land Cemetery. The plot lies on a high table above a tiny town in Western Colorado. Maybe they buried their dead on this high piece of table land overlooking the town and the land beyond it to provide the departed with a lasting view of the Colorado River. The river flows quietly, several hundred feet below me.

Because I’m a writer of crime fiction, most often involving murder along with other crimes, graveyards—cemeteries—carry a special interest. It’s especially true of cemeteries with older grave stones. In the central and eastern sections of the nation, and in the city where I live, cemeteries are usually well-groomed, lush with plantings and expansive lawns. They sometimes remind me of golf courses, or large, well groomed estates decorated with sculptures and mausoleums, many carrying obscure sayings.

In this upland, western Colorado cemetery, where I stood recently, the ground was hard, red and rocky. Little grew beyond the occasional forlorn plastic flower or bouquet. Like the rest of the hard-bitten land, around me, this land was speckled with sagebrush and small sturdy pines at almost 6,000 feet elevation. The headstones reflected the mixed population of residents who came to this small town from all over the world; the restless, the disconnected, those seeking fortune or the work that defined them. Interestingly, many were of Italian birth. Some were miners, who came here to the Western USA to dig ancient coal from the unfeeling mountains.

In 1894 striking miners fought Army troops during violence surrounding the Pullman railroad car strikes of that year. Some of them died here, and why a workers’ strike in Chicago brought death to Colorado miners is unexplained on the gray, tilting headstones. Their bodies are buried here silent, save for the wind, in this dusty red earth. Here, too, are the graves of forty miners who died in the 1899 fire in the Vulcan coal mine, located in the mountain just east of the town across the river from where I stood.

There are other graves, small children murdered by disease before their time, husbands and brothers murdered in far off wars, victims of other mine fires, including one, in the closed Consolidated Mine, that still burns the coal laid down there a thousand years before. Of a winter’s day, from this graveyard, wisps of smoke and steam can be seen, nearly a hundred years later, rising against the cold sharp crags of the rocky mountain.

I survey the scattered grave sites, the wind worn headstones and I wonder if the relatives of some of these abruptly terminated miners ever learned why the occasional letters from a far off place called Colorado stopped appearing. Natural disasters and crime can do that, disrupt the generations-long thread of family. The idea of tracing the circumstances of sudden and violent death too often leaves a void, an unexplained abscess. And not just among family members.

I’ve tried in my detective novel, “The Case of the Purloined Painting” to address the ironies of such suddenness and the longer-lasting effects on those not even central to the drama being played out. My detective, Sean Sean, has to try to explain the violent and abrupt death of a man who survived World War II and the terrors of a Nazi prison camp.

There is something about this cemetery, a cemetery holding the remains of immigrants who came to this land seeking a better life that speaks to me in odd ways. I tell tales for amusement and relaxation. Here, on this wind-swept sunny butte of hard and dusty dirt, under a blue and burning sky, lies evidence of other tales of life and death, sometimes soothing and peaceful. Other times, bitter and abrupt ends to ill-formed quests. Here, in this lonely windswept place, there are no answers, there are only questions.

Before he became a mystery writer and reviewer, Carl Brookins was a counselor and faculty member at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Brookins and his wife are avid recreational sailors.
He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Private Eye Writers of America. He can frequently be found touring bookstores and libraries with his companions-in-crime, The Minnesota Crime Wave.

He writes the sailing adventure series featuring Michael Tanner and Mary Whitney. The third novel is Old Silver. His new private investigator series features Sean NMI Sean, a short P.I. The first is titled The Case of the Greedy Lawyers. Brookins received a liberal arts degree from the University of Minnesota and studied for a MA in Communications at Michigan State University. www.carlbrookins.com