Shoofly Pie (Bug Man Series #1)

Shoofly Pie (Bug Man Series #1)

by Tim Downs


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Forensic entomologist Nick Polchak (a.k.a. the Bug Man) is hired by thirty-year-old Kathryn Guilford, who is terrified of bugs, to solve her friend's death. When Polchak stumbles into the mystery of how Kathryn's husband was killed years earlier, the action kicks into high gear — and Polchak finds himself on the run with his client from someone who will do anything to keep a secret.

This fast-paced murder mystery is more than the typical "Christian fiction;"it is good clean fun — on a thrill ride. Biblical values are implicit rather than explicit, and its fascinating elements provoke thought on a conscience, consequences, and world-views. But mostly, this book is a sizzler of a story that will not let you go.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781582293080
Publisher: Howard Books
Publication date: 07/01/2003
Series: Bug Man Series , #1
Edition description: Original
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 532,983
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Tim Downs is a professional speaker and writer and has worked as a nationally syndicated cartoonist for fourteen years. His first book, Finding Common Ground, was awarded the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association's prestigious Gold Medallion Award. He has coauthored two other works of nonfiction with his wife, Joy. Tim and Joy are on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ and live in Cary, North Carolina, with their three children.

Read an Excerpt

Shoofly Pie

By Tim Downs

Howard Books

Copyright © 2003 Tim Downs
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781582293080

Cary, North Carolina, April 21, 1999

Nick Polchak rapped his knuckles on the frame of

the open doorway. He glanced back at the Wake County Sheriff's Department

police cruiser blocking the driveway, orange and blue lights silently


"Yo!" Nick called into the house. "Coming in!"


fresh-faced sheriff's deputy in khaki short sleeves poked his head

around the corner and beckoned him in. Nick wondered where they got these

kids. He looked younger than some of his students.

Nick stepped into the entryway. Dining room on the right, living room

on the left. It was a typical suburban Raleigh home, a colonial five-four-and-a-door

with white siding and black shutters. A mahogany bureau stood just inside

the door. At its base lay three pair of shoes, one a pair of black patent

leathers. Nick shook his head.

He knew the layout by heart: stairway on the left, powder room on the

right, down a short hallway was the kitchen, and the family room beyond


Nick paused in the second doorway and took a momentto study the young

officer. He stood nervously, awkwardly, constantly checking his watch.

His right hand held a handkerchief cupped over his nose and mouth, and

he winced as he sucked in each short gulp of air. Nick followed the officer's

frozen gaze to the right; the decomposing body of a middle-aged woman

lay sprawled across the white Formica island in the center of the kitchen.

Nick knocked again.

"Officer… Donnelly, is it? I'm Dr. Nick Polchak.

Are you the first one here?"

"I was just a few blocks away, so I took the call." He glanced

again at his watch. "Our homicide people ought to be along within

the hour."

Nick began to stretch on a pair of latex gloves and stepped around to

the victim's head. "The name on the mailbox said 'Allen.'"

"Stephanie Allen. That's all I've been able to get

so far." The deputy nodded silently toward the family room, where

a solitary figure sat slumped forward in a red leather chair with his


buried in his hands. Nick raised his own left hand and wiggled his ring

finger. The deputy nodded.

"I didn't get your name—did you say Kolchek?"

"Polchak. Nick Polchak."

"You don't sound like you're from around these parts."

"I'm from Pittsburgh," Nick said. "And I'd say

you're not."

The deputy grinned. "How'd you know?"

"You left your shoes at the door."

"They don't do that in Pittsburgh? I guess they don't have

the red clay."

"The police don't do that in Pittsburgh. They figure

if you've got a dead body in the kitchen, you've got more to

worry about than dirty carpets."

The body lay faceup, stretched out diagonally across the island under

the bright kitchen fluorescents.

"Very handy," Nick said. "Too bad I don't find them

all like this."

The head rested in one corner, with medium-length blond hair flowing out

evenly on all sides. There were deep abrasions and contusions on the neck

and lower jaw. The body was in putrefaction, the second major stage of

decomposition. The skin was blistered and tight from expanding gases,

and the stench was considerable. There were sizable maggot infestations

in both eye sockets and in the gaping mouth cavity. She had been dead

for several days—maybe a week or more.

"You got here fast, Doc. I thought the medical examiner's office

was in Chapel Hill."

Nick shook his head. "I didn't come from Chapel Hill. I came

from NC State. I picked up your call on my police scanner."

"From the university? What were you doing there?"

"That's where I work."

Nick removed a pair of slender forceps and a small magnifier from his

coat pocket. He bent close to the victim's head and began to carefully

sort through the wriggling mass of maggots in the left eye socket.

"Wait a minute. You're not from the medical examiner's


"Never said I was."

"Then who in the—"

"I'm a member of the faculty at NC State. I'm a professor

in the department of entomology."

"A professor of what?"

"I'm a forensic entomologist, Deputy. I study the way different

necrophilous arthropods inhabit a body during the process of decomposition."

The deputy stood speechless.

Nick plucked a single plump, white larva from the wiggling mass and held

it under the magnifier. "I'm the Bug Man."

The deputy began to blink rapidly. "Now just hold on… you're

not supposed to…you're not a part of this…"

"Relax," Nick held the forceps aloft. "It's just one

bug. There's plenty more where that came from."

"You need to leave, Dr. Polchak."


"Because—you're not a medical examiner, and you're

not with the department. You shouldn't be here. It's not procedure."

"Not procedure. I have assisted the authorities on seventy-two

cases in thirteen different countries. How many homicides did you have

in Wake County last year? Five? Ten?"

The deputy shrugged.

"And how many of them did you work?"

"I never heard of any Bug Man," the deputy muttered.

Nick glanced down at the man's stocking feet. "Now there's

a surprise."

Now Nick turned to the motionless figure in the red chair. "Mr. Allen,"

he called out. "I'm Dr. Nick Polchak. I'd like to ask you

a few questions, if you don't mind."

"No," came a whisper from under the hands. "No questions."

"Mr. Allen," the officer broke in. "This man is not a part

of the official police investigation. You don't have to answer his


"He's right," Nick said. "But you can if you want

to. And when the homicide people get here, Mr. Allen, they're going

to ask questions—quite a lot of them. First the police will ask you

when you first discovered your wife's body."

The man looked up for the first time. His face was ashen and drawn, and

a deep purple crescent cradled each eye.

"It was less than an hour ago," the man said. "I called

the police immediately."

"Immediately? Your wife has been dead for quite some time, Mr. Allen."

"I've been out of town. I just got back, just today. And then

I found her, like…like this."

Nick nodded. "Next the police will ask you where you were during

that time."

The man did a double take. "Me? Why me?"

"Because the one who discovers the body is always a suspect."

"Like I said, I was out of town. I was in Chicago, on business. For

a whole week—they can check it out."

"I'm sure they will," Nick said, "and I'm sure

they'll find you're telling the truth. Their next question will

be: What day did you leave for Chicago?"

The man thought carefully. "Last Wednesday. The fourteenth."

"That would be…seven days ago exactly. And prior to that time,

Mr. Allen, did you see your wife alive and well?"

"We said good-bye right here, on Wednesday morning. She was perfectly


"You're sure you left that day? On the fourteenth?"

"Of course I'm sure! You think I can't remember a week


Nick held the specimen up and studied it closely. Then he looked back

at Mr. Allen.

"Care to try again?"

Nick dragged a chair from the breakfast nook into the family room and

sat down opposite the man, with the tiny white specimen still writhing

in the forceps in his right hand. He offered the magnifier to the man.

"I want you to take a look at something."

"I can't look at that. Get that thing away from me!"

"Oh come now," Nick whispered. "You have a stronger stomach

than that—don't you, Mr. Allen?"

The man looked startled; he hesitated, then reluctantly took the magnifier

in his left hand.

"Pull up a chair," Nick called back to the deputy. "Learn

something." Nick slowly extended the forceps. "Take a look at

that end. Tell me what you see."

The magnifier trembled in the man's hand.

"Little lines," he mumbled. "Sort of like slits."

"How many little lines?"


"Give the deputy a look, Mr. Allen. Those 'little lines'

are called posterior spiracles—think of them as 'breathing

holes.' The maggot you're holding is the larva of a common blow

fly. That fly landed on your wife's body shortly after her death

and began to lay eggs in the softest tissues—the eyes, the mouth,

and so on. Those eggs hatched into larvae, and the larvae began to feed

and grow.

"Now when a larva grows, it passes through three distinct stages

of development. Are you following me, Mr. Allen? Because this is the important

part: The larva doesn't develop those breathing holes until the third

stage. And after many studies, we know exactly how long it takes for this

species of fly to reach that third stage of development. Guess what, Mr.

Allen? It takes more than a week."

The man began to visibly shake as Nick rocked back in his chair and folded

his hands behind his head.

"Let's see what we've got so far. You've been out

of town for a week—exactly a week. You say that you saw your

wife alive one week ago, yet there are insects on her body that prove

that she died more than a week ago."

"Well…uh…," the man stammered, "maybe I was gone…

longer than I thought."

"The airline's records can clear up that little point. And I'm

betting those same records will show that you made your reservations the

same day that you traveled—sort of a last-minute business

trip, you might say. I have just one more question for you, Mr. Allen.

The police won't ask you this one, but it's something I've

always wondered about…"

Nick leaned forward again.

"When you strangle someone, can you feel the hyoid bone break, or

is it all just sort of soft and squishy?"

The man jumped frantically from his chair and lunged toward the door.

He ran like a man in a funhouse, stumbling first one way and then the

other, throwing himself from wall to wall, ricocheting wildly down the

hall toward the open door.

The deputy sat frozen in astonishment, staring wide-eyed at the doorway.

"I think you're supposed to run after him," Nick said.

"That's what they always do on TV."

The deputy thrust the magnifier and forceps into Nick's hands and

raced barefooted down the hallway. Nick rose slowly from his chair, shook

his head, and headed back toward the body. As he passed the hallway he

caught a glimpse of the mahogany bureau just inside the front door.

The top drawer was open.

Nick ran to the door and leaped out onto the brick porch. There was no

sign of the deputy or his quarry—they had already rounded the house,

probably headed for the woods in back.

"He's armed!" Nick shouted. "Your man is armed!"

No response.

Nick looked both directions. He chose left and raced toward the corner

of the house. "An amateur cop chasing an amateur murderer,"

he said aloud. "Someone could get killed this way."

He rounded the corner in a wide arc, expecting to lengthen his stride

into a long run for the woods—but there, bracing himself against

the far corner of the house, leaned the quivering figure of Mr. Allen.

In his right hand a .357 magnum dangled toward the ground.

Nick skidded to a halt. The man saw him, straightened, and wobbled out

away from the house. He turned to face Nick and slowly raised the weapon.

He couldn't steady it; Nick felt the barrel sweep back and forth

across his body again and again. The man's arm shook so violently

that he looked more like he was whitewashing a fence than aiming a firearm.

Nick marked the distance between them—fifty feet at least. At this

distance, it would take several tries for the man to hit him.

But it only takes one.

"Listen to me, Mr. Allen. You did something stupid. Don't make

it worse. You cannot get away, and you know it. You're only running

because you're scared."

The gun swept past twice more, marking Nick with a broad X.

"Think, Mr. Allen. Maybe you didn't mean to kill your

wife— but if you shoot someone else, they'll hang you for sure.

Put the gun down. Call a lawyer and see what you can work out."

The gun began to steady…

Over the man's shoulder Nick saw a khaki figure step out silently

from behind the house. The deputy drew his own handgun, leveled it, then

opened his mouth as if to shout. Nick held up both hands and shook his

head violently.

You idiot! I'm in your line of fire!

Too late.


The man spun around, firing wildly before he even faced his foe. The officer

fired back; the first shot streaked over the man's left shoulder.

Nick could feel it coming, he could sense the air compressing ahead of

the bullet as it tore past his left ear.

Nick dove for the ground. The man continued to fire blindly—three

shots into the ground, one into the air, two into the side of the house.

The officer fired twice more, shooting for the torso, not trusting his

own aim. The first shot caught the man in the lower abdomen and the second

hit square in the chest. Nick watched the man take both bullets. It was

not at all like the movies—no violent recoil, no sense of impact

at all. The man stood motionless for a moment, then his knees suddenly

bent in opposite directions, and he sagged to the ground like a crumpling


Nick crawled toward the broken body. He pulled the gun away and tossed

it aside; the barrel burned his hand. He placed two fingers on the carotid

artery and waited.


Nick looked up at the deputy and shook his head. The officer's knees

buckled, and he dropped to the ground, vomiting.

Nick rolled onto his back and stared up into the April sky.

"Seventy-three cases," he said.

North Carolina State University, April 22, 1999

"Nicholas? A word, if you please."

Nick stepped into the office of Dr. Noah Ellison, chairman of the department

of entomology and by far the most senior professor in any department at

NC State. Dr. Ellison quietly closed the door behind them.

"Nicholas," he began, wagging a spindly finger, "it has

been brought to my attention that you failed to appear for another of

your classes yesterday."

"Sorry, Noah, I had to make a house call."

"It is my responsibility as chairman of this department to remind

you that your contract involves a certain amount of teaching—and

your colleagues have reminded me that it is my duty to discipline you


Noah picked up Nick's right hand and slapped him on the wrist.

"Consider yourself disciplined. Please do not force me to resort

to such extreme measures again."

The old man motioned for Nick to sit.

"I have good news and I have bad news, Nicholas. Which would you

like first?"

"Give me both at the same time."

"Very well. The good news is the National Science Foundation has

granted funding for your summer research proposal— continuing study

in your beloved field of forensic entomology. The bad news is that the

grant is woefully inadequate, hardly more than a one-way ticket out of


Noah slid a check across the desk. Nick glanced at it and rolled his eyes.

"Can't we do any better than this, Noah? Aren't there any

departmental funds?"

He shook his head. "I control the purse strings, Nicholas, but not

the size of the purse. I'm afraid that's it; take it, as they

say, or leave it."

Nick studied the check again, hoping to discover a floating decimal point.

"What am I supposed to accomplish with this?"

"You have the faculty committee's permission to spend the summer

at our Extension Research Facility in Holcum County. And you may take

your research assistant, Dr. Tedesco, along with you."

"Holcum County? Is that in North Carolina? Please, tell me it's


"Forgive me, Nicholas." Noah smiled. "Sometimes I feel

like the poet Virgil, leading you to ever deeper levels of hell."

"Holcum County." Nick groaned. "Just the sound of


"Try not to think of it as a place, but as an opportunity—an

opportunity to get away from the university, away from the classroom,

away from students…and, I might add, away from the authorities."

"The authorities?"

"I received a rather belligerent phone call this morning from the

Wake County Sheriff's Department regarding the way you—how shall

I put it—expedited one of their investigations. I've

spoken with the chancellor; he agrees that this would be a propitious

time for you to take an extended leave. Purely in the name of science,

of course. May I make a suggestion, Nicholas? As a friend? The next time

you desire to assist the authorities, you might consider—just once—asking

them first."

Nick grinned at the old man, slid the check from the desk, and headed

for the door.

"One more thing, Nicholas. This is to be a summer of theoretical

research, not applied science. Please…for the sake of the university,

the department, and your weary old mentor—for the sake of your job—try

to stay out of trouble."

"Noah," Nick said yawning, "what kind of trouble can you

get into in Holcum County?"


Excerpted from Shoofly Pie by Tim Downs Copyright © 2003 by Tim Downs. Excerpted by permission.
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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Shoofly Pie 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Bookshop_Lady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved it! Fast paced, great use of humor. Set in a fictional North Carolina county that is so well described, I swear I've been there. REALLY ticked me off about Teddy, though.And especially I have to say I loved that there are no swear words and no sex scenes. This book is all story, and it's a story you can share with anyone of any age without fear that they will find anything offensive.I'm going to read more of his books. And since he just lives across town, maybe I'll get to meet him at a book signing soon.
StormyWeathers12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I give this book an A+
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RonnaL More than 1 year ago
I was looking for a scientific book for a fellow mystery reader and saw SHOOFLY PIE by Tim Downs. So with a heavy heart, because "BUGS" give me the shivers, I read this book as a preview for her, just hoping that I could manage to get through it without jumping out of my skin. WHO WOULD KNOW? I ABSOLUTELY LOVED "THE BUG MAN". The science and mystery are spot on and Nick Polchak-the Bug Man--is a reluctant charmer with a great dry wit. I actually learned a great deal of information from both books and, though I cannot say that "bugs" are my friends, I find that they add a huge element of interest to a mystery story. Who knew that those pesky little beings could tell someone so much about a dead body? Who knew reading about the "got ya" moment would be so great when little buggies are involved? And best of all, my science friend fell in love with these mysteries and found the science compelling and a great addition to the story. As for Nick Polchak, well if he was real, and I was not married, I would be searching for him immediately. Instead, I just am on the search for more Bug Man books! If you have ever wanted to try something that seems out of your comfort level, these are the books that will make you jump for joy because you have found something new!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book about a year ago and its the first time i've accualy got into a book like that in a long time! I'm hoping Chop Shop will be just as good!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent writing, plot and character development. The kind of book that begs to be read in one sitting. Talent like his is all too rare.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you are squimish around bugs this book can help with your phobia! What an excellent read. Liking CSI, my family thought I might enjoy this book, it has mystery, suspense, questions, makes you think! I received it for Christmas and finished the day after!
Guest More than 1 year ago
bugs, bees, suicide, stench, murder, mystery, love, war, betrayal, small-town country folk - this book has it ALL. This book is the first in a series - hurry Tim write! I was entertained, grossed-out and learned some entomology ALL at the same time! Tim Downs' impecable research and general knowledge of the human species fly off these pages. Truly hard to put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Just finished reading this book and had a hard time putting it down. I was looking for a well written novel with interesting characters and content - found it! Eager to see more fiction from this author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I LOVED THIS BOOK! I am an avid mystery/suspense reader, and without question this was one of the best books I have read in a while. It kept me up late into the night and I finished it in just 2 days. Great story, great characters, GREAT EVERYTHING!