Globe West People

For Shrewsbury woman, the devil's in the detail

Nancy Castle works on her second murder mystery in her Shrewsbury home. She is a documentation manager at Genzyme in Framingham. Nancy Castle works on her second murder mystery in her Shrewsbury home. She is a documentation manager at Genzyme in Framingham. (Jon Chase for the Boston Globe)
By Susan Chaityn Lebovits
November 2, 2008
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As a private investigator, Nancy Castle was hired to befriend drug dealers, trail felons, and expose infidelity. Now a documentation manager at Genzyme Corp. in Framingham, Castle maintains her attention to detail, ensuring that nearly 7,000 procedures are in place at the international biotech company - from how products are manufactured and distributed, to the method with which a chemical spill must be removed in a laboratory.

Adherence to rules and procedures has been a key element in all of Castle's professions, including her most recent as the author of "Serial," her first murder mystery being distributed by Publish America. Twists and turns in the novel come from her years as a sleuth, where infinitesimal clues would often be the key to conviction.

Born in California, Castle came to Massachusetts in the summer of 1983 to visit her grandmother while her parents were going through a divorce. She decided to stay and finish high school in New England. At the age of 15, Castle joined an after-school police explorer group for teens and was hooked.

"I learned a lot about what police officers do," said Castle. "I wanted to be a cop."

After high school she earned her associate's degree in criminal justice at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, juggling numerous jobs during the two years.

Castle worked for a retired police officer as a private investigator, primarily following married men to confirm their infidelity, while she held down an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at Worcester City Hospital as a security guard, where she did everything from moving bodies in the morgue to restraining belligerent patients.

"When I finished at 7 a.m. I would go home, change my clothes, and go to class," said Castle. "On a good day, I'd get four hours of sleep."

After college, in the late 1980s, Castle joined another private investigation firm, where one of her assignments took her to a local manufacturer, where she was asked to investigate complaints about the human resources director and suspicions that assembly line employees were involved with drugs.

"When I would go into these companies, I would have to get a [legitimate] job," said Castle. She spent six months working a wave solder machine, making circuit boards, and socializing with employees after work at a local pub. Castle said one employee would smuggle a flask of liquor to work and another sold cocaine.

"Understand that I have never done drugs, so not only did I have to befriend [the dealers] and buy drugs, I had to act like I knew what I was talking about," said Castle.

In between cases, she tested security procedures at a local lumberyard, an ongoing job set up by the owner.

"It was stealing without repercussions," said Castle. "We'd be given $50 to purchase some items, then steal the rest." At the end of the day, she'd go to one of the store's other locations without a receipt and attempt to return the items to the customer service department.

The most frightening assignment she ever had was tracking a man living at a now-shuttered local inn, who had served time for rape.

Once again Castle integrated herself into the community. She moved into the hotel and got a job at the inn bar as a cocktail waitress.

What made this assignment particularly scary, Castle said, was that it was close to her home so she would run into people she knew. In addition, the man who hired her investigation company was chatty and told too many people that she was there.

"One morning I woke up and found that my door had been opened," said Castle. "Fortunately I'd put the chain on."

A week later, at 2 a.m., Castle said she heard the sound of a police cruiser door. When she looked out the window, she saw 20 police officers surrounding the building. The man she had been keeping tabs on had attacked his former girlfriend, who lived down the hall. That evening her assignment ended, and soon after Castle gave up her job as a private investigator.

"I have the wrong personality for that stuff," said Castle. "I enjoyed it and had fun, but when I get nervous, my self-preservation side doesn't come out and I felt that eventually I'd get myself into trouble."

Having earned a real estate license while in college, Castle turned to the housing market for a year and worked in the store at a gas station from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. After a year, she took a job as a legal secretary.

Between 1996 and 2000, Castle worked at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, managing the HIV research lab of Mario Stevenson. During that time she also rolled her associate's degree toward a bachelor's in biotechnology from Worcester State College, graduating in 1999.

Castle then went to work for the Forsyth Institute, helping to write grants.

It was during this time she began work on her novel. The book takes place in Worcester, following many of the roads that Castle has traveled.

In 2001 Castle went to work for the biotechnology company Biogen Idec Inc. She wrote procedures for collecting medical information on experimental drugs. She has been at Genzyme Corporation since 2004.

Edward L. Armstrong, associate director of corporate quality operations systems at Genzyme, is not only a colleague of Castle's, but her life partner.

"Nancy lives outside the box," said Armstrong. "At home she recently read a book on making concrete kitchen counters and came up with an idea to put a wood core inside in order to reduce the weight." At work, he said, she's helping set up a new website for documentation. Because budgets and time have been so tight, she learned how to use videoconferencing equipment, arranged for site set-up, and gives national training.

When asked if he fears he'll wind up in one of Castle's novels, Armstrong joked, "She only kills those she likes - which is why I sleep with one eye open."

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