Murder in Rat Alley: A Sam Blackman Mystery

Mark de Castrique. Poisoned Pen, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4926-9938-5

At the start of de Castrique’s nicely plotted seventh Sam Blackman mystery (after 2017’s Hidden Scars), the skeletal remains of a body are found near Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, once a NASA tracking station but now a weather research center, outside Asheville, N.C. When the bones are identified as those of Frank DeMille, a software engineer who disappeared in 1971 while working on the Apollo space mission, the FBI is called in to handle the case. Cory DeMille, Frank’s niece, approaches her PI friends, Sam and Nakayla Robertson, and asks them to investigate, as she’s certain that the FBI will stonewall her. Sam and Nakayla agree to assist. The subsequent murder of Loretta Case, who was Frank’s girlfriend and the secretary for the head of PARI back in 1971, raises the stakes. De Castrique skillfully entwines the reasons for the two deaths and provides a fascinating motive that spans the decades. Intelligent, kind protagonists and an eye-opening historical background help make this one winner. Readers will look forward to seeing more of Sam and Nakayla. (Dec.)