Overly critical of how the US government treats its veterans, Sam Blackman has been shunted away from Washington, DC and into a veterans' hospital in rural North Carolina. Blackman, an amputee and Army veteran of the Iraq war, has a few days of rehab left before he's turned loose to go live with his brother. He needs to make a decision about his future, but he's too busy (1) being angry, and (2) enjoying his self-hosted pity party.
That is, until until former Marine Tikima Robertson walks in with her no-nonsense attitude and an Elmore Leonard mystery:
"Came through there myself three years ago. They tried to give me one of those new fake arms they claim looks real. Black plastic supposed to match my skin. My skin's no more black than yours is white. I looked like I'd stolen the arm off Darth Vader. I said forget this, give me something that works."
Tikima was just what Sam needed. Telling him that she had work that she thought he'd find interesting, she promises to come back. She doesn't. When Sam gets the all-clear to leave the hospital, he calls the company she works for and discovers that her body's been pulled from the French Broad River that flows through the Biltmore Estate outside of Asheville. The evening after her funeral, Tikima's sister, Nakayla, contacts Sam. Nakayla knows why her sister wanted Sam's help. It all has to do with The Journal of Henderson Youngblood--a book that Nakayla believes was responsible for her sister's death. When the two start investigating, they find a mystery with century-old ties to the Robertson family, to the Biltmore Estate, and to writer Thomas Wolfe.
De Castrique is a very assured writer. He knows how to include the history of the Asheville area, of the Biltmore and of Thomas Wolfe without slowing the pace of the story or sounding like a professor. Having a 90-year-old journal woven into the storyline provides even more interest and depth--also with no decrease in the plot's speed. The author is a very deft hand at characterization. Tikima Robertson has one short scene, but it's a powerful one that makes her one of the most memorable characters in the book. Blackman isn't left to stagnate in self-pity. The dilemmas he must face as an amputee are realistic, as are his reactions to them.
I just plain flat out had a marvelous time reading this book. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. My brain always seemed a half step behind Sam's as we both tried to solve the mystery. Another thing that was a refreshing change: except for the Bad Guys themselves, most of the characters in Blackman's Coffin were honorable people wanting to do the right thing. In mysteries, that can be a rarity.
The next book in this series, The Fitzgerald Ruse, is set to be released on August 1. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on it!