Reviewer Wally Wood: Wally is a a professional writer and a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He holds a master's degree in creative writing from the City University of New York as well as a bachelor's degree from Columbia University where he majored in philosophy. As a volunteer, he has taught writing in men's state prisons and to middle-school students in his local library.
His first novel, Getting Oriented: A Novel About Japan received positive reviews even from people who do not know him. As a ghost-writer, he has written 19 business books, all published by commercial publishers. He has recently published The Girl in the Photo which is currently available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a trade paperback or Kindle download.
Author: Mark de Castrique
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
I respond positively to mysteries that are (a) plausible, (b) have interesting characters, and (c) are set in recognizable locales. Blackman's Coffin by Mark de Castrique meets all three criterion.
You'll have to take my word for it that the mystery is plausible because to discuss the plot in any detail would be to give too much away.
The main character, however, is both original and sympathetic. Sam Blackburn, a Chief Warrant Officer in the US Army's Criminal Investigation Detachment, has his leg blown off in Iraq and is recovering in a North Carolina V.A. Hospital. Tikima Robertson, a former Marine, visits him in Chapter 1 and offers to help him find a place to live in Asheville and a job with her employer Armitage Security Services. Surprisingly (to Sam) she never returns.
When Sam is out of the hospital, he tries to connect with Tikima at Armitage. She was murdered the morning she'd visited Sam. It's now three weeks later, the police have no suspects, and it's becoming a cold case. After a memorial service for Tikima, Sam receives a phone call from an agitated Nakayla Robertson, Tikima's younger sister. Someone has broken into Tikima's apartment during the service but appeared to take nothing. On the other hand, the burglar may not have recognized the significance of something Tikima had left on a table.
Before Blackman's Coffin ends, the reader has learned something about Thomas "Look Homeward Angel" Wolfe and the brother who stayed behind in Asheville, the Biltmore estate (with the biggest private home in the United States), and North Carolina geology. Because de Castrique grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina he knows the landscape and perhaps because this is his fifth mystery he knows how to sketch a character and evoke a scene.
Blackman's Coffin is interesting for the exchange between Sam, the white, one-legged, former Army detective, and Nakayla, the black insurance investigator. de Castrique also manages to write convincingly what seems to be a 60-year-old journal, an early, unpublished work by Thomas Wolfe. The journal says more than appears on the surface and while Sam may have an artificial leg, the IED in Iraq did not destroy his sharp-wittedness.