Buffalo Mountain (Ike Schwartz Series #3)

( 1 )


It's the bleak midwinter and the Shenandoah Valley is poised on the brink of an unusually icy and snowy season. Alexei Kamarov's body is discovered in a forest within the Picketsville town limits. His driver's license identifies him as Randall Harris. The last Sheriff Ike Schwartz heard of Kamarov, he was reported missing, presumed dead, in Russia, the victim of intelligence game-playing.
Ike is not happy with this piece of his past. Ike's ...

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Buffalo Mountain

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It's the bleak midwinter and the Shenandoah Valley is poised on the brink of an unusually icy and snowy season. Alexei Kamarov's body is discovered in a forest within the Picketsville town limits. His driver's license identifies him as Randall Harris. The last Sheriff Ike Schwartz heard of Kamarov, he was reported missing, presumed dead, in Russia, the victim of intelligence game-playing.
Ike is not happy with this piece of his past. Ike's former CIA colleague and friend Charlie Garland asks Ike to keep a lid on the investigation.
Slowly, interagency rivalries surface as local petty criminals vie with international assassins and plotters for attention. All the while, Buffalo Mountain looms in the background. Does the community's violent history have something do with this recent murder? Or is Kamarov's death part of some greater political plot?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this subpar third outing for Picketsville, Va., sheriff Ike Schwartz (after 2006's Secrets), deputy Whaite Billingsley finds a corpse bearing the ID of Randall Harris, a member of "one of the meanest families" in the backwoods locale of Buffalo Mountain. But Schwartz, a former CIA agent, immediately recognizes the body as that of ex-KGB spy Alexei Kamarov, and the mystery deepens when he contacts Charlie Garland, an ultrasecretive government figure, for help. Despite outwardly approaching the case as a routine and decidedly local homicide, Schwartz is too willing to tell his staff and friends about what is supposedly a top-secret "black program" operation. The layers of intrigue and duplicity are both difficult to follow and impossible to believe. Ramsay exerts considerable energy juggling his convoluted plot with a large number of marginally colorful ancillary characters, all while trying to convey a sense of place. But he has too many balls in the air, and the result is a rarely convincing or credible mystery. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Why are the FBI and the CIA interested in a murder in a small Virginia town?Only the fact that Picketsville Sheriff Ike Schwartz used to be a CIA agent allows him to identify the body dumped in the woods as that of former Russian spy Alexei Kamarov, whose driver's license identifies him as Randall Harris, from nearby Buffalo Mountain. Given the ongoing FBI-CIA rivalry, Ike warns his computer-maven deputy Sam Ryder not to mention the body to her beau, FBI agent Karl Hedrick. That turns out to be easy when Karl quits communicating with her. As Ike's top deputy, Whaite Billingsly, follows up local leads, Sam's computer wizardry turns up a trail of ATM and credit card use which she finds is being tracked by unknown agencies-a puzzle, since only the CIA knows Kamarov is dead. Ike himself must juggle the baffling murder case, his love life with a local college president, his mother's impending death and his suspicion that a local wheeler-dealer is a crook. When Whaite is killed in what looks like an accident on snowy roads, Ike kicks it up a gear and brings the convoluted case to a rousing conclusion. The third in Ramsey's series (Impulse, 2006, etc.) reveals still more of the improbable challenges that face a Jewish sheriff in a little Southern mountain town.
From the Publisher
"Ramsay demonstrates once again that he is a superb storyteller, adroitly mixing the spy and small-town mystery genres and shocking us with one walloping big surprise midway through the book. An excellent entry in this still-young but steadily improving series."       —Booklist

"The third in Ramsey's series (Impulse, 2006, etc.) reveals still more of the improbable challenges that face a Jewish sheriff in a little Southern mountain town."    —Kirkus Reviews

Ramsay’s solid debut...nicely mixes town and gown, sophisticates and rustics, thugs and masterminds. Ike Schwartz seems destined for a bright future.”
Publishers Weekly on Artscape

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590585375
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • Publication date: 8/10/2008
  • Series: Ike Schwartz Series, #3
  • Pages: 257
  • Sales rank: 1,531,375
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Frederick Ramsay was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He received his doctorate from the University of Illinois-Westside Medical Campus. After a stint in the Army, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, School of Medicine, teaching Anatomy, Embryology and Histology; engaged in research and also served as an Associate Dean. During this time he also pursued studies in theology and in 1971 was ordained an Episcopal priest. He is the author of several scientific and general articles, tracts, theses, and co-author of The Baltimore Declaration. He is an accomplished public speaker and once hosted a television spot, Prognosis, on the evening news for WMAR-TV, Baltimore. He is also an iconographer with works displayed around the world. He lives in Surprise, Arizona with his wife and partner, Susan.

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Read an Excerpt

Buffalo Mountain

By Frederick Ramsay

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2007 Frederick Ramsay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59058-537-5

Chapter One

The body lay face up, halfway in the town's corporate limits, halfway in the state park. Dead eyes stared heavenward at a wintry sky. Deputy Sheriff Whaite Billingsly studied it for a moment and called in.

"Ike, I can shove him six feet west and let the state boys have him, or we can keep him. What do you think?"

Thursday afternoon and a snowy weekend approaching, Ike Schwartz, Picketsville's chief law enforcement officer, sighed. "Lord knows, it's tempting. But no, I reckon it'd better be us. Where are you exactly?"

"Out on the Covington Road—west at the town line. Funny thing about this guy—"

"What's that?"

"He looks familiar."

* * *

Ike peered through the park's barren trees and caught sight of Whaite twenty or thirty yards in. He shivered and looked skyward. Dull late November clouds piled up in the southwest and sent ragged streamers across the valley. The temperature had dropped five degrees since noon. His nose began to run but he could still smell snow on the way. He shivered again as a gust of cold air blustered down through tree limbs and made billows of brightly colored leaves swirl this way and that.

The shiver had less to do with the cold than with thoughts of automobiles skidding on roads and extra duty for his deputies. Picketsville did not handle snow well. Usually an inch or two fell, melted, and then the temperature would drop back below freezing, turning the roads into skating rinks. County trucks spreading a combination of salt and cinders provided the only relief. Picketsville didn't rank high enough on the County's priority list to get any attention until a half dozen cars, trucks, and, sometimes, farm tractors ended up in ditches, upside down or worse. A real snow—six inches or more—would create a major traffic disaster and shut down the town for days. And the Sheriff's Department, his department, would be the one to sort it all out.

He retrieved a roll of yellow crime scene tape from the trunk of his cruiser, wrapped one end around a sign post, and walked it toward the area he assumed held the body. His breath left a steamy trail as he struggled up the embankment.

"How do, Ike, bit frosty today. The body's over there." Whaite tilted his head toward a shallow swale at the foot of a tree stump. "I came up here on the rise so you'd be sure to see me."

"Appreciate that."

"Town line runs down to the sign there and over there's a survey marker." Whaite pointed toward a concrete marker. "So if I run a line between the two, I make it he's laying about half in Craddock's Woods and half in the park.

"Somebody cut it kind of fine if the idea was to give him to us and not the state."

"Or the other way around."

"Or the other way round."

A congregation of black birds, grackles, and starlings, flocked up for winter, rose like a plume of smoke from black, skeletal tree limbs, circled, and following some inherent aerial choreography, swooped, climbed, and drifted south in a cacophony of avian complaints.

"You're driving your Circus Wagon today? Where's the truck?" Whaite, when off-duty, usually drove a beat-up Ford 150 pickup. Ike had pulled up behind Whaite's bright red, souped-up, 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle.

"Truck blew a head gasket. I got her in the garage. Be awhile 'fore she'll be back on the road, I'm afraid.This one's a show car, Ike, not a circus wagon, won a prize or two."

"Sorry, just kidding, it's a fine looking piece of machinery. So, what have we got so far?"

Ike rocked back on his heels and waited. Whaite, he knew, could pick through a crime scene and pull out the important bits. He rarely missed anything and Ike needed to hear him tell it as he saw it. They sidestepped down into the gully and stood shoulder to shoulder staring at the body. Its arms were folded as if in prayer. Autumn leaves nearly covered the legs, but some drag marks from the road were still discernable.

"Well, if you ask me, it looks like a robbery gone bad. His wallet is empty. Driver's license says he's Randall Harris."

"A license? I thought you said the wallet was empty."

"Was. The license was in a side jacket pocket. I reckon whoever did him didn't think to look for it or maybe didn't care. Probably in a hurry. Anyway, it appears whoever pulled this off drug him here after they shot him somewhere else. You can see the leaves are all pushed aside and the back of his shoe is scuffed up."


"Yep, just the one. Must have lost the other when they hauled him up here."

"If it's not between here and the road then it's probably where he was killed. Find the shoe, find the killer. By the way, how'd you find him?"

"I didn't. I was down to the junkyard looking for some parts for the truck. On my way home, I saw this kid coming out of the woods and acting funny, so I stopped to check him out. He parked his pickup in the middle of the road. Told me he stopped to relieve himself and found the body. He said he was about to call it in."

"You believe him?"

"I expect so. No way to know for sure. I had no probable cause to search him or his vehicle. He took off before I got the info from his driver's license but I did get a tag number so we can run him if we need to, wrote it on a piece of paper here." Whaite tapped his shirt pocket.

"He's not a suspect?"

"No. This body's been here a while. Probably dumped last night."

"Did he touch anything?"

"I don't know. Maybe. He must have come this way a bit, though—to make sure the guy was dead. You can see the leaves, where they're deep, how he came in and where he did his business. Now down in this swale, the wind whips around and moves the leaves all around so that would erase any footsteps. Like I said, I don't know for sure."

The wind, on cue, gusted through the trees and whirled leaves in noisy eddies around their ankles. The temperature seemed to drop another ten degrees. Ike stepped closer to the body. "You said the victim looked familiar. What did you mean?"

"He looks like a Harris."

"Well, he is, isn't he? I mean that's what his driver's—?"

"No, I mean like someone I know. There's lots of Harrises in the world, as you for sure know, but ... well, I wasn't raised up in Picketsville. I come from down past Floyd, up on Buffalo Mountain. You know the mountain?"

"I heard some stories about it from my father. Used to be a rough place, they say."

"Before the war, World War II, that is, especially during the Depression, it was a hard place. Shootings and stabbings were as common as colds and one of the meanest families in the area back then was the Harrises—old Claude especially. They said he looked like President Wilson. Can't say as how I'd know about that, but that's what they said. Anyway, some of the later Harrises have that same chiseled look you see on this fella. That's what I mean about he looks familiar. He looks like a Buffalo Mountain Harris. Like I said, driver's license says he's Randall Harris. Looks like maybe a Sutphin decided to even the score."

"You're losing me here, Whaite. You can fill me in on the folklore later."

"Yes sir, but I reckon all we need to do is slip on down to Floyd County and find us a descendent of a Sutphin and we'll have our killer."

Ike studied the face frozen in death and shuddered. "I don't think so, Whaite."

"No?" Whaite looked disappointed. "Why is that, boss?"

"In the first place, why would a ... whoever ... or anyone else for that matter, come all the way to Picketsville to dump the body? If it was a traditional Buffalo Mountain killing, wouldn't they want everyone down there to know about it?"

"Well, I guess they would but—"

"In the second place, whatever his ID says, this man is definitely not a Harris or anyone else from Buffalo Mountain. His name is Alexei Kamarov. He's supposed to be dead."

"Well, I reckon that part is for sure done. But who is Alexei ... whoever?"

Ike studied the all too familiar face of an old enemy/colleague from another life and sighed. This was not good. The congregation of blackbirds evidently finished with its sortie south, returned, and settled back into the trees with a discordant chorus of squawks and chattering. Ike had to raise his voice to be overheard.

"I need to make a phone call. Wait here."

"Well sure, Ike, but—?"

"Be right back. This is not good."

Ike walked back toward the splash of red Whaite's Chevy made against the gray concrete and tree trunks by the road. He paused, his back to the woods, and punched in a number he had committed to memory. He waited while the number connected.


"Charlie, it's Ike. We have a problem."

"We have a problem? You mean you have a problem? What kind of problem are you talking about? Another big crime and you need me to give you advice or—"

"Listen to me, Charlie, Alexei Kamarov is dead."

"Well golly, we knew that. At least we supposed that when he disappeared after Eloise ... after the shooting ... after Zurich. He tried to find you, right? He couldn't and then he disappeared. Figured Moscow Central had him put away. That was a while back, though."

"Maybe they did and maybe they didn't. But right now his body is lying not twenty yards from me, in the town limits. My town limits."


"Yes. Why is he here, Charlie? You want to take a stab at that? Is somebody trying to send me a message?"

"Maybe to you or maybe to the Agency. It could be they wanted us to know, figured you'd be sure to send it. I'll get back to you. Rats ... bad news. Why is it always you that brings me bad news, Ike?"

"Not my game anymore. You call me ASAP, Charlie. I'm getting really nervous down here." Ike zipped up his coat and slapped his sleeves against the cold, which now seemed much more intense. He walked back up the rise to Whaite.

"You know I used to work for the CIA?"

"I reckon everybody does by now, Ike."

"This man used to be on the other side. We had dealings. He was supposed to have been eliminated."

"You're sure it's what's-his-name?"

"No doubt about it. I just called an old friend in the Agency. They're on it and will make an absolute ID soon, but it's him. We need to secure this area as tight as a drum and Whaite ... not a word of this to anyone, you hear? If anybody asks, we have a John Doe. No Harris, no Kamarov. For now, no one knows who he really is but you and me. You got it?"

"You're the boss."

Chapter Two

Samantha Ryder huddled against cold bricks hoping to avoid the worst of an icy wind that skittered the last of the leaves around the building's corner. She hugged herself for warmth and watched as a childhood memory rolled into the parking lot. A fresh blast made her eyes water and blurred her vision. She hunkered her six-foot-three-inch frame, blinked back the tears, and focused again on a bright red Chevy Chevelle, SS 396, all three hundred and seventy-five of its dealer-installed horses rumbling through dual glass pack mufflers, the deep throbbing that turned men's heads. Her father thumb-tacked pictures of that same car to his garage wall. She remembered seeing him staring at them, a faraway look in his eye. He'd dreamed of owning that muscle car. Some Sundays he'd pack Sam and her younger brothers into their dowdy family sedan and travel across town or out into the suburbs to look at a Chevelle—the Chevelle. Her father would circle the car and talk to the owner about carburetors, injection systems, and custom rear ends. Sam would stare at the machine and wonder. She never understood why that car so infatuated him. At the end of each meeting with a purchase price established, her father would frown, scuff his toe on the ground, and declare he'd have to think it over. He never bought any of the dozen or so he looked at. Years later Sam came to understand that he never intended to. He just liked the idea of owning one, of talking about it, but with four children to raise and educate, he could never justify spending the money to purchase it.

She watched as Whaite parked the Chevy carefully on a separation stripe, taking two parking spaces to discourage anyone from dinging his paint job with a carelessly opened door. The finish glittered in the morning sun, adding a dazzle of bright red to an otherwise dull day. She had not inherited her father's love for Chevelles—or any other car, for that matter. She drove an old Subaru Forester she'd bought used when she was trying to manage the transition between college and the world of work.

"Where's your truck?" she asked.

"Head gasket blew. I've got to replace it."

"You going to do them both?"

"Oh yeah. Once you get down to the heads on a V8 you might as well do them both."

"It's a beautiful car." Sam resisted the temptation to tell him about her father.

"A hobby, Sam. I always wanted a street rod so I bought this thing half restored and finished the job."

"Love the paint job."

"You think? Funny thing, that. When I got around to shopping for paint—I knew I wanted her red, that's all—I met this guy who restores motorcycles. He told me the Harley dealer over in Waynesboro over-bought red paint, Midnight Pearl Red, a special run for the ninety-fifth anniversary or something. The manager figured there'd be a big demand for it. He had gallons in his stock room and was practically giving it away. So, you are looking at the only Harley-Davidson red Chevy in the world—well, in the county, anyway."

They stood admiring the car.

"I thought we were getting some snow yesterday. Had the boss all worried, like," he said.

"Blew over. Lucky us. What will you do with the car when you've finished fixing it up?"

"I guess I'll sell her and start in on another one. I always wanted one of them pre-war cars, maybe a thirty-nine Ford coupe, one with a big flat head V8. I don't know for sure. Long-range planning isn't one of my strong suits. By the way, what're you doing standing out in the cold?"

"Ike called me in early. I thought I'd wait for you and find out why. Something go down yesterday?"

"We got us a corpse over at the ME's office. A John Doe from Floyd, we think. Ike says you and me are to partner up and work the case."

"You and me ... work a homicide?"

"That's what the man said. He wants to see us this morning."

Another gust of icy wind rattled the office door and invited them in. Sam waved a good morning to Essie Falco behind the dispatcher's desk.

"He in yet?" Whaite asked.

Essie waved back. "Shut the door, you're letting in all the cold air. Yeah, he pulled in half an hour ago looking a little worse for wear. He said to send you right in, Whaite. And Sam, he wants you to check out some things on the internet, and then go see him. The list is on your desk. I guess it's about the dead guy."

"Your boyfriend, the FBI guy, comes to town this weekend?" Whaite said as he pulled mail from his box.

Sam had found someone in the fall who matched her in both stature and brains. FBI Special Agent Karl Hedrick stood an easy two inches over her six-three. He had arrived in Picketsville that summer in pursuit of a missing felon. The case had gone south for him, but Hedrick lingered in town for another month—presumably to keep his connection with Sam—and they had become an item. When he was finally recalled to Quantico, Ike feared she would follow and he would lose his newest deputy, but she had stayed on. She said it was too soon to make a commitment like that. Nevertheless, every other weekend she took off for Northern Virginia and on the alternate weekends, Hedrick traveled down to Picketsville.

"No, it's my weekend to go to Fairfax."

"You ever see that movie, Sleeping with the Enemy?"

Sam closed her eyes for a second and shook her head. "The FBI is not the enemy, Whaite. The trouble with you is you just assume that they're a problem for us locals. We need to learn to trust and work with them."

"I bet you believe in the Easter Bunny, too."

"Honestly. Until that attitude goes the way of the dodo, there'll never be any progress in, um ... interagency cooperation. Besides, that movie was about a woman trying to escape an abusive husband—"

"And you aren't married yet."

"No, but ... well ... wait a minute."


Excerpted from Buffalo Mountain by Frederick Ramsay Copyright © 2007 by Frederick Ramsay. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fine Shenandoah Valley police procedural

    Buffalo Mountain Frederick Ramsay Poisoned Pen Press, Aug 2007, $24.95 ISBN: 1590583698 Picketsville, Virginia Deputy Sheriff Whaite Billingsley finds a body on the nearby icy forests the driver¿s license on the dead man was issued to Randal Harris. Since the victim is part of the orneriest bone cruel family living in the most isolated backwater area of Buffalo Mountain, Whaite assumes a feud of sorts. However, when Whaite¿s supervisor sheriff Ike Schwartz sees the corpse, he knows the victim is not a Harris, but instead is missing former KGB spy Alexei Kamarov. Using his past contacts as a CIA Agent, Ike contacts government operative Charlie Garland while pursuing the case as a routine homicide starting with sending Whaite to do field inquires and directing Sam Ryder to conduct web searches. --- In his third Shenandoah Valley police procedural ( see SECRETS and ARTSCAPE), Ike¿s behavior seems suspect as he knows better than to tell his subordinates that this whodunit is part of a blacks ops espionage encounter, but does so. The mystery is entertaining as Ike and his crew meets a cast of characters from generations living on the Buffalo Mountain, Russians who are out of place here (Brooklyn is more apropos), and CIA operatives trying to blend in. Although Ike¿s out of character behavior appears wrong as if he is bragging about war stories, fans of the series will enjoy the case of the former Soviet spy turned dead hillbilly family member. --- Harriet Klausner

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