The Glorious Nosebleed by Circa Survive from the 2005 album Juturna, cover art by Esao Andrews. The Glorious Nosebleed by Edward Gorey was published in 1975.
YARMOUTHPORT — Author Carol Verburg states the background of her first murder mystery simply and succinctly in the dedication of “Croaked.” “This story was born over lunch with my friends Edward and Jack. I started writing it to entertain them, and finished it in loving memory of them and Herbert. Now it’s for all of us who miss them.” Edward is acclaimed writer-artist Edward Gorey, a longtime friend of Verburg’s and the inspiration for the amateur detective character of Edgar Rowdey in “Croaked” (the book is dubbed “An Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery”). Jack is John “Jack” Braginton-Smith, owner of the old Jack’s Outback restaurant in Yarmouthport, where Gorey ate every day and Verburg — who was their neighbor for years — often met the two for a meal. Herbert is longtime Cape Playhouse set designer Herbert Senn, another Yarmouthport fixture and friend of them all. He died in 2003 at age 78. At their lunches, Verburg would talk often with Gorey and Braginton-Smith about how Cape Cod, and Jack’s, could be the setting of a mystery — “an Agatha Christie set in Yarmouthport.” So she began writing up their ideas. But Gorey died in 2000, at age 75, and, Verburg says that at first, “I couldn’t bear to go on” with the book. After some time, though, “I couldn’t bear for him to be dead” and she used her memories of Gorey to create Rowdey. “I picked up writing the book again to hold on to what we had,” she says, adding that, besides, “I had (told Gorey) I would do it.” Trying to pull the book together, Verburg, having since moved to San Francisco, called Braginton-Smith. They had what she remembers as a long, lovely conversation full of reminiscences and he answered her detailed questions about the area and the idea. Inspired again by that chat, she continued writing. Then Braginton-Smith died, at age 80, in July 2005 and, she says, “I again abandoned it because it was just breaking my heart.” Other personal situations took her attention, but the book nagged at her. In that last chat, she had told Braginton-Smith — who had to sell the beloved Jack’s Outback in 2004 — that she would “keep his restaurant alive.” She felt she needed to follow through and finally committed. “It went pretty fast once I accepted that they both weren’t coming back.” The plot brings a young woman to Cape Cod from Boston, and she gets a job cooking at “Leo’s Back End.” She believes that an old friend’s death bears investigating, and so does regular customer Rowdey, whom Verburg says “doesn’t want to be dragged into anything, but he has so much experience as an author that things are obvious to him that aren’t obvious to others. And he knows the community.” The parallels to Gorey — whose unusual artwork has an international following — are obvious. In the book, Verburg describes Rowdey’s work this way: “Yes, his miniature black-and-white books did follow one character after another through a dismal set of perils to a grotesque end.” (“K is for Kate who was struck with an axe…,” for example, is part of Gorey’s famous “Gashlycrumb Tinies” alphabet.) Verburg shows her knowledge of Gorey’s true nature with the addition of: “Edgar Rowdey’s interest, however, was not in death per se. What fascinated him was people’s reactions to death.” Verburg emphasizes that “Croaked,” while based on real places and people, is entirely a work of fiction. “It’s definitely my offering of affection and gratitude to people I shared a really lovely part of my life with. … I know the closing of Jack’s (original restaurant) came as a shock to a lot of people and I hope they find this.” Rick Jones, director and curator of the Edward Gorey House museum at Gorey’s old home at 8 Strawberry Lane, told Verburg that reading the thriller was “like having Jack’s open again,” which she considers high praise indeed. Verburg, who wrote, directed and produced many plays — including producing close to 20 of Gorey’s — during her years on Cape Cod, has been involved with a variety of writing projects during her years away. But her work keeps coming back to Gorey. She worked with Jones on the current museum exhibit of “Edward Gorey and the Performing Arts” and wrote and published the book “Edward Gorey Plays Cape Cod” with the subtitle of “Puppets, People, Places & Plots” as a companion piece to the exhibit. The book tells the story of how Gorey created “entertainments” with local actors and handmade puppets that were produced from 1987 to 2000 in unusual venues from Woods Hole to Provincetown. Some of the titles were entertainment enough, including “Moderate Seaweed,” “Heads Will Roll & Wallpaper,” “Crazed Teacups” and “Flapping Ankles.” The volume’s 30 pages include behind-the-scenes stories, such as private jokes Gorey placed in the scripts, and mention of Gorey’s love of theatergoing. During a Cape visit this spring, Verburg met with a group of the scattered troupe of actors who had worked on Gorey’s plays about the possibility of publishing the scripts. Verburg wants to involve as many of Gorey’s friends as possible and has gotten permission from the estate to pull those together. So there will be more Gorey-related projects for Verburg. And she’s already back at Jack’s — wait, “Leo’s Back End” — for the next Edgar Rowdey murder mystery. The sequel, “Zapped,” she promises, is in the works.