Maddy's Reviews > Blackman's Coffin

Blackman's Coffin by Mark de Castrique
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's review
May 23, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2008-reads
Read in July, 2008

SETTING: Asheville, North Carolina
SERIES: #1 of 1

Blackman’s Coffin is a departure from Mark de Castrique’s Buryin’ Barry series and introduces a compelling new protagonist, Sam Blackman, a somewhat embittered ex-Army investigator who lost his left leg in Iraq.

While recovering in a VA hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, he is visited by ex-marine Tikima Robertson, who is also an amputee, having lost her hand in battle. She’s a feisty woman who cuts to the chase and challenges Sam to stop indulging in self-pity and anger. Tikima wants to use his investigative skills for her private security agency, but before she can provide Sam with the details of her request, she is murdered. Sam is then approached by Tikima’s sister, Nakayla, who has found some interesting material when cleaning up Tikima’s apartment, which has been broken into. She has unearthed a journal dating back to 1919 which was written by a 12-year-old boy named Henderson Youngblood. The journal describes several adventures in Henderson’s life, including the loss of his leg after being attacked by a bear. He is saved from almost certain death by Elijah Robertson, who is black and the great-great grandfather of Tikima and Nakayla. The more important tale to Nakayla was that of Henderson’s father, who was a white funeral director. Mr. Youngblood is asked by Elijah to escort the body of his uncle to a graveyard in Georgia. At the time, this would have been a very daring thing to do; of course, Mr. Youngblood agrees since his family is indebted to Elijah.

de Castrique intersperses the journal into the narrative, and it’s a very interesting document indeed. As Nakayla and Sam team up and try to figure out what Tikima was investigating, they uncover many discrepancies. Was the articulate writing in the journal really the product of a 12-year-old boy or perhaps written by someone else? Did somebody want the almost 90-year-old journal so badly that they would kill for it? Was there something other than a simple burial that Elijah was involved in? Did his job on the local Vanderbilt estate figure into the picture at all?

I was thoroughly engrossed in the book from the start but found that tension waned as it approached its conclusion. The rationale for the events in the story didn’t feel plausible to me. However, as always, de Castrique does a superb job of depicting the North Carolina setting. I found Sam Blackman to be a compelling character and appreciated how de Castrique detailed the challenges that he faced as a new amputee. He has all the right stuff to anchor a series.


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