Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Fatal Scores by Mark de Castrique


First Line: "There's no place where a beer tastes better than at a baseball game."
When a local environmentalist is found dead in the Pigeon River, his death threatens both the upcoming Asheville Luminaries Festival and the proposed expansion of a local paper mill. Since the dead man was supposed to be at the river to collect water and soil samples and there were no samples to be found, his death is highly suspicious. 
The victim's family hires the Blackman Agency to find the truth, and as Sam Blackman and his partner Nakayla Robertson begin to investigate, leads point them in two directions: the father and son who own the paper mill, and someone who wants to disrupt the Asheville Luminaries Festival. Sam and Nakayla have their work cut out for them if they want to see justice done.
This is another one of my favorite series, and it reminds me of two others. One I'll talk about right now. When I recently reviewed Ellen Crosby's latest Wine Country mystery The French Paradox, I talked about how intelligent Crosby's books are. Well, Mark de Castrique's Blackman Agency books are also a feast for the intelligent, curious reader. This series is filled with strong characters, intriguing mysteries, history, art, literature, and vivid settings. If I thought reading Ellen Crosby's books was akin to spending time with a kindred spirit, then Mark de Castrique is a kindred spirit, too.
I never realized how rich Asheville, North Carolina's cultural heritage is until I began reading these books. Although the Asheville Luminaries Festival is fictitious, I would love to attend it due to the wealth of leaders in the humanities who've spent time there. In Fatal Scores, de Castrique introduces us to three more: Dr. Robert Moog, creator of the Moog synthesizer, composer Béla Bartók, and environmentalist and social activist Wilma Dykeman. Although I was familiar with Moog and Bartók, I'd never heard of Wilma Dykeman, and after reading Fatal Scores, I definitely wanted to correct my oversight. (It is Dykeman who said, "As we have misused our richest land, we have misused ourselves; as we have wasted our bountiful water, we have wasted ourselves; as we have diminished the lives of one whole segment of our people, we have diminished ourselves.")
It is Dykeman who ties in most closely to the mystery in this book, and this allows the author to touch upon a period of horrendous water pollution: the Pigeon River in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee was once known as the "Dead River" and Hartford, Tennessee as "Widowville" due to the deaths caused by deadly chemicals being dumped by paper mills.
One of the things I love most about this series is that these historical personages and events are woven carefully and skillfully into the narratives; I never feel as though I've been dumped in a classroom where I'll soon be tested on a bunch of dates and facts. 
The mystery is a good one in Fatal Scores, as is all the fascinating information, but the main thing that brings me back time after time is the characters. Sam Blackman is a former military investigator who lost his leg in Iraq. There's a serious side to the loss of his leg, but Sam isn't above poking a little fun at it as when he tells Nakayla, "Next time you try to stop me from saying something stupid, please step on my real foot, not my prosthesis." Nakayla Robertson is Sam's partner both romantically and professionally. She's also one strong, intelligent Black woman who's more than capable of holding her own in any situation. And here is where I'm reminded of another favorite series, Todd Borg's Owen McKenna series set in Lake Tahoe. Like Owen, Sam loves a strong, independent woman, and he's willing to take her on her own terms. You gotta love a man like that.

If you're an insatiably curious reader who loves to partner with nuanced, strong characters to solve intriguing mysteries while learning all sorts of fascinating things along the way, you can't go wrong with a Blackman Agency mystery by Mark de Castrique. Fatal Scores can be read as a standalone, but I'd suggest starting at the beginning with Blackman's Coffin.

Fatal Scores by Mark de Castrique
ISBN: 9781464213151
Poisoned Pen Press © 2021
Paperback, 272 pages
Private Investigatior, #8 Blackman Agency mystery
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from The Poisoned Pen.


  1. I couldn't agree more, Cathy, about intelligent mysteries. They really appeal to me, too. And I have to say, I don't know enough about the Asheville area. There's a lot happening there, though, and it's a good setting for this sort of mystery. I can see why this series appeals to you so much.

    1. And you should give this series a try, Margot...


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