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!
Blackman's Coffin is the first book in a new series from Mark de Castrique, author of the outstanding 'Buryin' Barry' series. Blackman's Coffin introduces us to Sam Blackman, a former Chief Warrant Officer in the Army's Criminal Investigation Detachment who, having lost part of his left leg in Iraq, is currently rehabbing at a V.A. hospital in Asheville, N.C.
Shortly before he is set to be discharged, both from the hospital and the Army, he meets fellow vet and amputee Tikima Robertson during one of her visits to the hospital. Knowing of his investigative background, Tikima offers Sam a job with the security company where she works and promises to visit again in a couple of days. After several weeks pass with no word from Tikima, Sam follows up with her company only to learn that Tikima was murdered, her body having been pulled from the French Broad river with a gunshot to the head.
Sam subsequently receives a call from Tikima's sister informing him that her sister's apartment has been ransacked, and that she thinks she knows what the intruders were looking for... a journal from 1919 which recounts, among other things, the murder of the Robertsons' great-great-grandfather, Elijah, who was also found in the French Broad river. Tikima had hidden the journal under the dust jacket of another book and left a note on it indicating that the journal was intended for Sam's review. Feeling a sense of obligation to the woman who had reached out to him, Sam agrees to help investigate Tikima's murder.
The plot, which deftly interweaves the modern day murder of Tikima with that of her great-great-grandfather Elijah, manages to include a great deal of history about Asheville, the Biltmore Estate and Thomas Wolfe (an Asheville native, and who does factor into the story), all without ever slowing down the pace of the story. As with his Barry Clayton series, which is also set in North Carolina, the characters in Blackman's Coffin are so well written the reader immediately feels as though they're known them forever, and both the behavior and dialog of even the most bit player rings true.
This was an interesting story of an injured vet who comes to Ashville, NC, to recover from hs injury. He was in investigater in the military and he gets involved in solving a crime that happened many years ago. This is the first novel in the series and I will be anxious to read the next one.