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’ve known them forever, and both the behavior and dialog of even the most bit player rings true.
If you’ve never read Mark de Castrique’s work before, Blackman’s Coffin is a great place to start.