Mark De Castrique,
The Sandburg Connection
(Poisoned Pen, 2011)

Asheville, N.C., is one of my favorite towns on the planet. Nestled in the mountains, with four universities, fine music in the clubs and on the streets, great coffee houses and bookstores, as well as a great literary history, it is where hippies go to find life after all thoughts of the revolution have faded into the ether. So when I saw that The Sandburg Connection was set in Asheville, I was ready for a good time. Author Mark De Castrique lives in Asheville, so his local color is on the money; he captures the essence of the city that he and I both love.

He also tells a pretty good story. Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson are partners in a detective firm who have been hired to follow local history professor Janice Wainwright to see if they gather evidence that she is faking the injuries that are the basis of her malpractice suit against a surgeon. The follow her to Connemara, Carl Sandburg's home, where she climbs an arduous trail up Glassy Mountain -- a feat that would tend to show she's faking. But then, out of sight of Blackman, she falls or is pushed down onto a granite slab where Blackman arrives in time to hear her last words: "It's the Sandburg Verses. The Sandburg Verses."

Wainwright's autopsy reveals that the surgeon is certainly guilty of malpractice, so Blackman and Robertson, representing the professor's teenaged daughter, set out to find out who killed her and why, knowing that the answer is connected to the Sandburg verses, which they cannot identify.

Before the search is done, more people have died, mundane events turn out to be loaded with meaning, and Blackman has to put his own life on the line.

The description makes the book seem more action-filled than it is. Mostly, it is a book of conversations and interrogations, leading up to a confrontation at the end. However, they are interesting conversations and interrogations. Blackman and Robertson make good series characters and, man, you can't beat the location.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

28 January 2012

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