Hidden Scars

by Mark de Castrique
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2017, $26.95

Set in Asheville, North Carolina, Hidden Scars, the sixth book in the Sam Blackman mystery series, juxtaposes a very cold case—dating back to the 1940s—with up-to-the-minute movie industry intrigue. Sam, an Army veteran with a prosthetic leg, and his detective agency partner and girlfriend, Nakayla Robertson, are an interracial couple in the modern South who share a no-nonsense attitude and a wry sense of humor. The pair are hired by an octogenarian to bring closure to the death of her brother, Paul Weaver, a wounded World War II veteran. Weaver was attending Black Mountain College, the renowned center for progressives (even communists, rumor had it), artists, and visionaries such as Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham. The official account is that he fell to his death while hiking at night, but his younger sister, who idolized him, insists he knew every inch of the mountains where they grew up.

The investigators locate Harlan Beale, an elderly handyman who worked at Black Mountain and who was acquainted with Weaver and his circle. Beale is historical advisor to the film adaptation of a romance novel set at the college. The filming schedule has been held up by the theft of building supplies needed for a crucial scene—and then Beale turns up dead, just after calling Sam Blackman to say he had something important to show him. Are the long-ago death of Weaver, the apparent sabotage, and the murder of Beale connected? And how?

Hidden Scars is packed with engaging and colorful characters, including mysterious “men in suits,” modern FBI agents and cops, a tweed-jacketed, elbow-patched hack author, and a shotgun-toting old recluse whose pet raccoon sports a rhinestone collar. The complicated plot twists from past to present and back again, keep the reader intrigued. Building slowly at first, the novel moves toward an action-packed conclusion that leaves no loose ends. Hidden Scars creates a satisfying and enjoyable counterpoint between the secrets of the past and the crimes of the present.

Jean Gazis
Teri Duerr
de Castrique
October 2017
Poisoned Pen Press