A Murder in Passing (Sam Blackman Series #4)

A Murder in Passing (Sam Blackman Series #4)

4.0 1
by Mark de Castrique

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The Blackman & Robertson Detective Agency faces a disturbing reality: no clients. So when Nakayla Robertson suggests a mushroom hunt at the historic, freed-slave commune The Kingdom of the Happy Land, Sam Blackman reluctantly agrees. Hunting the elusive edible, he stumbles into a rotting log…with a skeleton hidden inside. As intrigued as Sam is, this


The Blackman & Robertson Detective Agency faces a disturbing reality: no clients. So when Nakayla Robertson suggests a mushroom hunt at the historic, freed-slave commune The Kingdom of the Happy Land, Sam Blackman reluctantly agrees. Hunting the elusive edible, he stumbles into a rotting log…with a skeleton hidden inside. As intrigued as Sam is, this isn’t his case. So the local authorities tell him to butt out.
Then Marsha Montgomery comes to Asheville asking Sam and Nakayla to investigate a 45-year-old burglary at her mother’s home. Someone stole a rifle and a photograph of Marsha’s mother, grandmother, and great grandmother taken in 1932 by renowned photographer Doris Ulmann. The site of the photograph is The Kingdom of the Happy Land. Marsha’s visit is no coincidence. Sam’s being played. But why?
When Marsha’s 85-year-old mother Lucille is arrested for murder, Sam knows there is something amiss. Is the skeleton that of Jimmy Lang, Lucille’s lover and Martha’s father, a white man who disappeared in 1967? It appears that Jimmy had been willing to walk away from a budding family empire to marry Lucille. So why had Lucille, who is black, refused to marry him? Did others stand to benefit from Jimmy’s disappearance? A veil of betrayal and deceit hides a killer desperate to protect a dark secret, and no one, not even Sam, is safe from the deadly consequences of a murder in passing.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
De Castrique's well-crafted fourth mystery (after 2011's The Sandburg Connection) featuring Ashville, N.C., PI Sam Blackman and partner/lover Nakayla Robertson explores America's past history of racial segregation. Sam, on a mushroom hunt with members of the Blue Ridge Mushroom Club, stumbles into a rotten log and discovers a skeleton inside. Called to the scene, Henderson County Deputy Sidney Overcash finds a rifle slug nearby. Meanwhile, a new client, Marsha Montgomery, hires Sam and Nakayla to investigate a very cold case—the 1967 theft of a photograph of the Kingdom of the Happy Land, a 19th-century community of former slaves, founded on the site where the skeleton was found. The mystery proves to involve the interracial, and then illegal, romance between Martha's mother, Lucille Montgomery, and the long-missing Jimmy Lang. This solid whodunit offers readers a glimpse into a curious chapter of cultural history. Agent: Linda Allen, Linda Allen Literary Agency. (July)
Thinking About Books - David Marshall
A Murder in Passing by Mark de Castrique (Poisoned Pen Press, 2013) is the fourth Sam Blackman Mystery based around the Blackman and Robertson Detective Agency. Sam and Nakayla have a growing reputation as investigators despite the fact their work ethic is more on a hobby level. Their finances are sound without having to work too hard. Sam was a Chief Warrant Officer working for the military police. He’s now retired with a prosthetic leg replacing the one he lost in Iraq. Having overcome the inevitable self-pity, he’s proved his ability in civilian life, making loyal friends and the inevitable enemies as a private investigator.
The book starts with our couple part of a small group investigating the woods for wild mushrooms in the Kingdom of the Happy Land. This historical estate was established by a group of emancipated and runaway slaves but has long been abandoned. Few disturb the land making it an ideal place for mushroom hunting. Embarrassingly, Sam falls over on to a rotten log covered in edible fungus. His hand goes through into what proves to be a hollow space containing a decomposed body. Just the luck of the draw, really. As the police begin their efforts to identify the body, Marsha Montgomery arrives in their offices with a story about the Kingdom, a stolen photograph, and her missing father. This quickly establishes the core of the story as based on a mixed race relationship in 1967 between Marsha’s parents. This year was significant in that the law was changed to allow such couples to marry. Obviously changing laws does not change people’s attitudes and prejudice may have been a significant factor in the white man’s disappearance. Almost immediately after they begin their own informal investigation to decide whether they will take on the case, an overzealous police officer arrests Marsha and her eighty-five year old mother without waiting for evidence to identify the corpse. The reason for the arrest is that Marsha, fearing her mother might have shot her father back in 1967, was seen burying the possible murder weapon in their back yard.

Mark de Castrique
This makes the legal situation of the defence interesting because, if the prosecution can’t prove the identity of the victim, they can’t begin to prove a murder case against the mother and Marsha was only five at the relevant time. There are also some really nice bits of reasoning like the analysis by a ex-sniper of the scene where the shooting is assumed to have taken place. Taking an overview of the plot as it’s slowly rolled out, this is a very elegant rerun of an “idea” that used to be quite common in mystery and detective fiction. Because culture evolves and changes over time, it’s been some years since I last encountered it which makes it all the more pleasing to see an author demonstrate a contemporary relevance. Even if you understand the significance of one piece of evidence when it emerges, the enjoyment of the book is not disturbed. The theme just changes from a mystery to an understanding of the family tragedy as it played out all those years ago and the effect it still has today. The author enhances the theme by including a modern couple weathering prejudice against people in a gay relationship.
Although the plot itself is interesting, the real attraction of the book is the characterisation of our two detectives and their friendly attorney. So avoid the need to repeat myself, you should look at the introduction to my review of Bleed For Me by Michael Robotham on the question of lead characters with a disability. In this instance, our hero only finds the body because he’s disabled. Having put the coincidence of the right person in the right place at the right time, he’s also very strongly invested in helping other Vets adjust to their newly acquired disabilities. Indeed, he takes a direct interest in helping a young man with a prosthetic hand find employment. When so many in the real world are reluctant to look beyond the financial cost of the wars the US has been engaged in over the last decade or so, it’s distinctly refreshing for an author to be telling a positive story about someone who has lost lost a leg but gained a new perspective on life. All this makes A Murder in Passing a great read.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Product Details

Poisoned Pen Press
Publication date:
A Murder in Passing Series , #4
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Mark de Castrique grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina where his mysteries are set. A veteran of the television and film production industry, he serves as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. A Murder in Passing is fourth in his series featuring PI Sam Blackman.

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A Murder in Passing (Sam Blackman Series #4) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
tedfeit0 More than 1 year ago
The Blackman-Robertson mysteries are rooted in South Carolina history. In previous novels, such landmarks as Carl Sandburg’s farm played a role. Other links included Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this book, it is a photo taken 80 years before by a famous woman photographer, Doris Ulmann, the subjects of which were three blacks, mother, daughter and five-year-old Marsha Montgomery, and some boys. Marsha retains Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson to find the photo which she claims was stolen from her mother’s home, along with a rifle, in 1932. That is the first plot twist of many that lie ahead, before the truth is revealed. The mystery involves the identity of a skeleton which Sam inadvertently uncovers when he trips, crashing into a rotted log while hunting for mushrooms. Racial attitudes in the South play a prominent role in the novel. Sam is white, Nakayla is black. Not only are they partners in the detective agency bearing their names, but lovers as well. Marsha’s 85-year-old mother is black, but had a white lover, Jimmy Lang, who fathered Marsha. He also was in the supposedly valuable photo which disappeared in 1932. As did he, after his proposal of marriage was rejected for sound reasons based on local prejudices. This is a well-told tale that moves along swiftly, keeping the reader intrigued as it introduces nuances and new facts wending its way toward a conclusion. Written with economy and a keen eye on the socio-economic society of the post-Civil War South, the author has an excellent grasp of his subject, and the novel is recommended.