The grave of a beloved pet holds a sinister secret that threatens a young couple's happiness in "Princess Anne," a short story by local author Jim Allyn that appears in the November, 2013 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
It's the second story by Allyn that has appeared in Ellery Queen, the country's leading mystery magazine, since he returned to this area after a long business career in health care marketing. "The Deer Woods," the first story he wrote from his new Black River home, appeared in the February 2012 issue.
Allyn found the seeds for "Princess Anne" in his own past.
Author Jim Allyn
"One of the main elements of the story which centers around returning to some former property to dig up a pet is actually part of something that happened to me," Allyn said. "We're very sentimental about our animals."
Growing up in the area, his family maintained a hunting camp in Black River where they always had hunting dogs around. Because of their love for dogs, Allyn's family started a pet cemetery on a knoll overlooking the river.
"That has grown as we've had many animals over the years," he said.
In the 1970s, college and life took Allyn to Ann Arbor, where he and his wife at the time purchased a run down farmhouse outside the city.
"Much like the farmhouse in the story, we fixed it up," Allyn said. "We had two dogs hit by cars there. I buried them on the property. Then things went south in my personal life. I got divorced, I got into the rat race, into health care marketing working for big hospitals. We sold the house."
Upon moving back to Black River, Allyn said he began thinking about his two favorite dogs buried at the farmhouse in Ann Arbor and felt a nudge to find their graves and bring them back to the family pet cemetery. To date, that hasn't happened, but the family at the center of his new story lovingly tends the grave of a pet left behind on their idyllic property by a former resident of the farmhouse.
There's more going on beneath the surface though than initially meets the eye, which Allyn's fictional couple discovers when the former resident returns to the gravesite after many years away.
"It was from that premise, which was just a really personal thing what would you do if someone came to your door and said there was an old grave that they wanted to dig up on your property? that the story developed," Allyn said. "The next thing I asked myself was since digging up itself isn't much of a mystery, then what would make it a mystery?"
Besides his short stories, Allyn is work on two novels that are about 50 percent done. They are more action adventure, he said, but with crime involved. Both have Michigan roots.
Though he had intentions of writing steadily after returning to Northeast Michigan, Allyn has found the writing process more challenging than he anticipated.
"I have found it a lot harder than I thought it would be," he said. "I'm getting better now at learning how to work at home. That's the primary challenge. I get up in the morning at home, have a cup of coffee and get distracted. I hope to be more prolific. I've sold everything I've written, but I need to get more done. I'll probably try to hole up in the winter."
In the fall of last year Allyn and his brother, Doug, a long-time, award-winning author of crime fiction, collaborated in a presentation on mystery fiction at the Alpena County Library.
Allyn is a graduate Alpena High School and Alpena Community College. He earned a Master's Degree in Journalism from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where he also won a Hopwood Creative Writing Award, Major Novel Division. Locally, he is a member of Friends of Negwegon and Huron Pines.
The author previously had a third story, "The Ozone Layer," published in Ellery Queen in February 1999.
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