In Blackman's Coffin, Mark de Castrique begins a new mystery series, introducing us to the character Sam Blackman. Sam is an about-to-be-released Army veteran from the Iraq war, who suffered injuries that required his left leg to be amputated just below the knee. The injury has made Sam an angry man; angry enough to speak to the press and testify on Capitol Hill about the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital. That move landed him in a VA hospital in Asheville, NC, and it is there that Tikima Robertson, an ex-Marine and fellow amputee, walks into his room. Tikima works for a local security company, and somehow she has learned about Sam's background with the military's Criminal Investigation detachment. Tikima has come to cheer him up, and, unbeknownst to him, enlist his help in solving a family mystery. Before he is made aware of her ulterior motive, Tikima is found murdered--floating in the French Broad River. A few days later, just before he is released from the hospital, Sam is contacted by Tikima's sister, Nakala. She has discovered a diary from 1919 hidden in Tikima's apartment, with Sam's name on it. The diary was written by a 12-year-old Asheville boy who accompanied his father, a white funeral director, as they helped a black man named Elijah transport his deceased relative to a small family plot in Georgia. From that point on, Sam is drawn into a mystery that involves not only Tikima's murder, but also the murder of her great-great-grandfather, Elijah, who was found floating in the same river ninety years earlier. Not knowing who to trust, Sam and Nakala follow up the clues in the diary and in Tikima's apartment, and embark on a twisting and dangerous journey to connect the dots between the shadowy past and the murderous present. As Sam adjusts to his prosthetic leg, he and Nakala travel widely around the region extracting information from a cast of colorful characters, endangering their own lives in the process. Along the way, Sam realizes that life is too short for anger, and he turns back into the thoughtful man he was before his injury. De Castrique weaves an interesting and detailed, plot-driven story. The characters are believable and vividly described, as are the settings. Throughout the book the rich history of Asheville is on full display, particularly the roles of the Vanderbilts and author Thomas Wolfe. The tale moves easily between past and present, and de Castrique ties the two together very cleverly. This mystery is a fairly quick read, and contains no objectionable language or graphic violence. The author has researched his facts thoroughly, and makes the story believable by including information about prosthetics, North Carolina history, security methods, and survival skills. Very enjoyable.
Recommended by Angela Prandini