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by Mark de Castrique
Poisoned Pen Press, December 2019
272 pages
ISBN: 1492699381

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Cory DeMille's birthday party falls apart when one of her friends shares the news that firefighters discovered a skeleton buried near Pisgah Astronomical Institute (PARI) while cleaning up after a recent forest fire. Cory's uncle Frank, a software engineer working for NASA at PARI, disappeared without a trace in 1971 and she is certain the remains are his.

Cory, a paralegal, prevails on Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson, PIs and friends, to investigate her uncle's murder. Back in the 70's PARI monitored the Apollo missions while today it is an important repository for gathering weather and climate data.

Sam and Nakayla begin their investigation by collecting the names of folks who knew Frank and worked at PARI. Sam discovers that the facility started out monitoring the space race for NASA but then acted as the ears for the National Security Agency (NSA) listening to Russian satellites before it shifted to its current role of housing secure data. This becomes a thread to follow when the detectives interview Frank's younger sister, Nancy, who informs them that Frank asked for her husband's address in Vietnam where he served as an officer in Army Intelligence. Frank needed his advice about a situation at work.

Interviews with former work colleagues lead Sam and Nakayla to Frank's fiancée, Loretta, whose family did not approve of her relationship with Frank. They also run down the fact that Eddie was also murdered shortly after he asked a colleague to explore the possibility of a leak at a NASA facility. Wanting to follow-up their first interview with Loretta, Sam and Nakayla visit a pub where she will be playing with her family musical group. Sam shares information from the autopsy that startles Loretta who says she has to go but will meet with him after her group's performance. The evening comes to a dramatic end when Sam, looking for Loretta, finds her dead body out back of the pub, in Rat Alley.

So now, the FBI is involved in Frank's murder due his work with classified information in 1971 and Detectives Newland and Efird are on the current investigation of Loretta's homicide. And Sam and Nakayla begin to explore the relationship between Loretta's death and the discovery of Frank's body.

Mark de Castrique fabricates an elaborate, multi-layered mystery that employs espionage elements to deepen the intrigue. The author's skill creating divergent clues that he deftly connects makes for a fascinating read at a compelling pace. In this 7th Sam Blackman Mystery, characters and relationships continue to evolve, as de Castrique builds an appealing community for readers to explore.

§ Ruth Castleberry has worked as an investigator for Pinkerton's, a city desk assistant on the Charlotte News, free-lance writer, marketing/business strategy consultant, competitive intelligence practitioner and digital marketing consultant.

Reviewed by Ruth Castleberry, December 2019

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