A complicated mystery with literary roots challenges a rookie gumshoe.
Fresh from solving a murder whose origin stretched back nearly a century (Blackman’s Coffin, 2008, etc.), Iraqi war veteran Sam Blackman has a new lease on life despite having lost a leg in combat. Nakayla Robertson, the victim’s sister, who roused Sam from his postwar mental doldrums and helped him unravel his last case, has become his lover. Returning to Asheville, N.C., he makes her his partner as well in a new detective agency. Elderly Ethel Barkley charms Sam with a yarn about her teacher Laura Guthrie, who worked as a secretary for F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1930s. Mrs. Barkley wants Sam to go to her bank and retrieve a safe-deposit box that is somehow linked to a “crime” she says she committed against Fitzgerald in 1935. It seems like an easy assignment and an errand of mercy. Sam is unprepared for what he finds at the bank: The box is sealed with hardened metal bearing the imprint of a swastika. The plot thickens when somebody breaks into Sam and Nakayla’s office and steals the unopened box, leaving behind the strangled corpse of friendly building security guard Amanda Whitfield. When Sam revisits Mrs. Barkley, she seems far less vague and innocent. Adding more headaches is unfinished business from Sam’s hitch in Iraq, involving among other things the controversial Blackwater Company.
The warmth of Sam and Nakayla’s relationship and Sam’s challenged but determined heart make for a great read despite some lead-footed plotting.