Go to the library to tour Asheville through mysteries

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 26, 2016

By Marian Lytle

Rowan Public Library

I love Asheville. I love the location nestled in the mountains with gorgeous views. I love the funky fun vibe of downtown with its eclectic architecture and variety of ethnic shops and restaurants. I love its proximity to hiking and waterfalls as well as the variety of churches and spiritual retreats. But one thing that I can never get enough of is Asheville’s rich history, from its humble beginnings in 1797 as an isolated settlement, to the 1880s railroad boom that brought tourism, to its current success as a center for culture, art, education and medical care.

I love to visit and explore in person but I also love to visit through the many books that have been set in that delightful city.

One of my favorite comfy chair Asheville travel experiences combines mystery, history, romance and modern day characters dealing with very present day problems. Mark De Castrique’s Sam Blackman series covers the gamut of popular tourism spots and local legends.

Beginning with “Blackman’s Coffin” (2008, Poison Pen Press), De Castrique introduces his characters and his unique ability to spin both the glamorous and dark side of history together with a well-honed mystery.

Sam, a former chief warrant officer who lost a leg in the Iraq War while on patrol, attends the funeral of ex-Marine Tikima Robertson. Robertson is an African-American woman, an amputee who had visited Sam in the Asheville veteran’s hospital where he was recovering.

Robertson, during her volunteer visits, alluded to a mystery that Sam, the former warrant officer, might want to investigate if he could stop enjoying being miserable. While at the funeral, Sam meets Robertson’s younger sister, Nakayla, who is convinced her sister has been murdered. Thus begins the journey and the birth of Sam’s new career as a private investigator, as well as a budding relationship with Nakayla. “Blackman’s Coffin” continues to develop and link the Biltmore Estate, Thomas Wolfe and the Jim Crow laws of the South. The novel is quick, fun and thoughtfull.

At this point De Castrique has written five novels in this series. His history-connected mysteries include Zelda Fitzgerald’s death during the devastating fire at Asheville Asylum in “The Fitzgerald Ruse,” 2009;   Carl Sandburg’s estate in the “Sandburg Connection,” 2011; a fictitious freed slave commune from “Murder in Passing,” 2011; and most recently, the very popular haunted tours of Asheville in “A Specter of Justice: A Sam Blackman Mystery,” 2015.

This series reflects all that I find fascinating about Asheville as De Castrique describes the sites, sounds, smells and tastes of the city as well as the eclectic mix of funky folks, liberal ideology coexisting with old- time religion and a gracious sprinkling of history tied into a mystery.

Other books and authors that bring the Asheville area to life include: “The Past is Never Dead: a Gritz Goldberg Mystery,” by David Schulman, 2004; “Guests on Earth,” by Lee Smith, 2013; and “Serafina and the Black Cloak,” by Robert Beatty, 2015.

Of course you can always go and explore yourself with the help of “Day Trips the Carolinas: Getaway Ideas for the Local Traveler,” by Jim Hoffman, 2012. Happy travels no matter how you get there.

Summer reading: Children 12 months old to rising fifth-graders are invited to participate in On Your Mark, Get Set, READ!! Summer Reading Program at all branches. Programs run through July 28. Cleveland reading program Thursdays, 10 a.m., Cleveland Town Hall, for all age groups.

A reminder that Reading All Stars is only for 1-year-olds; Little Champs is only for 2-year-olds and doors close at 10:40 a.m. for Little Leaguers.

Summer movie series: Headquarters, starting at 6:30 p.m. Free popcorn and lemonade served. June 28, “The Mighty Ducks,” (PG). Slapped with a community service assignment, a tough trial lawyer must coach a ragtag team of pee wee hockey players who can’t skate, can’t score and can’t win. Also July 6, 2 p.m., South Regional.

Book Bites Book Club: South (China Grove), Tuesday, June 28, 6-7 p.m. Free, open to the public. We discuss a different book each month and serve refreshments loosely related to the theme. “Rebecca,by Daphne du Maurier. Need a copy? Call 704-216-7731. July 26, “The Aviator’s Wife.”

Olympic Readers: rising first- though fifth-graders, June 27-30, Mark Daniel, magical storyteller; July 5-7, Ro & Mo.

Water Olympics (for teens): Open to rising sixth- through 12th-graders. Prepare to get soaked. All at 3:30 p.m., Monday, headquarters; Tuesday, East; Thursday, South Regional; July 5-7, Game Show Challenge.

Adult Summer Reading Program: Zentangle and other stress relief, Monday, 6:30 p.m., headquarters. Explore the new craze of adult coloring and its therapeutic benefits, along with other stress relieving activities.

Displays: Headquarters, RHA Behavioral Health, Carter House and photos from Spring photowalk; South, stained glass by Sandra Collins and Betty Corriher; East, vintage lunchboxes.

Literacy: Call the Rowan County Literacy Council at 704-216-8266 for more information on teaching or receiving literacy tutoring for English speakers or for those for whom English is a second  language.