Mark de Castrique and Mark Williams share much more than a first name. Both are long-time residents of Charlotte, both are about the same age, and both pursued similar careers before becoming men of letters. Mark de Castrique worked for years as a video producer while Mark Williams worked as an audio producer and sound engineer. Nowadays, however, both of them focus much of their attention on providing readers with mystery stories in which the past figures prominently in the unfolding of action-packed plots. Both of them have just released books featuring a male and a female detective who work together to solve crimes.
Mark de Castrique has written numerous mystery novels, many of which are set in and around Asheville. His latest mystery novel, Fatal Scores, is part of his Sam Blackman Series. Released this month by Poison Pen Press, Fatal Scores revolves around a murder that is rooted in Asheville’s past. For more information about Fatal Scores and Mark’s other books, please click on the following link: http://www.markdecastrique.com/
I recently contacted Mark and asked him how Fatal Scores relates to the history of Ashville. Here is what he sent to me:
I like the following quotation from William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun – “The Past is never dead. It’s not even past.” My Sam Blackman detective series revolves around that concept in that the stories are about the impact of the Past on the Present.
I grew up in Hendersonville, NC, a small town near Asheville. The rich history of the region has provided true stories that I’ve fictionalized as having criminal consequences.
Sam Blackman and his partner/lover Nakayla Robertson are an interracial couple in present-day Asheville. Sam is a white war veteran who lost a leg in Iraq. Nakayla’s a smart, witty, African-American woman with investigative skills of her own. Together, they have solved cases involving Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carl Sandburg, and the Kingdom of the Happy Land, a real kingdom set up by freed slaves in the North Carolina mountains.
Fatal Scores is the eighth in the series and is set against a contemporary fictional festival honoring four true-life luminaries with actual ties to Asheville: baseball great Babe Ruth, composer Béla Bartók, Moog synthesizer inventor Robert Moog, and pioneering environmentalist Wilma Dykeman. Intertwining their Asheville connections into a story proved to be a fun challenge, but the plot is much darker. For years, paper mills dumped toxic waste into NC mountain rivers. The Pigeon River became known as the Dead River. Downstream in Tennessee, contaminated ground water proved lethal. One town, Hartford, suffered so many deaths, it was known as “Widowville.” Environmental activist Wilma Dykeman and others filed legal challenges that helped rejuvenate the river, but as Faulkner observed, “The Past is never dead.” And the sins of the Past demand retribution as someone is settling fatal scores.
Mark Williams is the founder Dark Lantern Tales, a Charlotte-based publisher of vintage detective stories. Mark has a passion for the crime thrillers that were originally published in America during the late nineteenth century. Sometimes labeled pulp fiction or dime novels, these detective stories were generally set in New York or other major American cities, and they were marketed to working-class readers who were seeking action-packed, sensational stories. Mark has been collecting these publications for much of his life, and he is now bringing some of the best stories in his collection back into print. Several of the books he has published are part of The Joe Phenix Detective Series, the most recent of which is Kate Scott, the Decoy Detective. For more information about Kate Scott, the Decoy Detective and the other books Mark publishes, please click of the following link: https://darklanterntales.wordpress.com/
I recently contacted Mark and asked him how he came to be interested in bringing out new editions of “Vintage Detective Fiction,” such as the Joe Phenix Detective Series. Here is what he sent to me:
For a nerdy teenager, growing up in the Chicago area offered a substantial buffet of fine museums, mysterious hole-in-the-wall stores, and public transportation to reach all of it. My friends were caught up in the new (original) Star Trek series, but my taste for escapism led to the past. In particular, the last half of the 19th century resonated with me. I studied the turbulent post-Civil War decades, collected original artifacts, and discovered the popular literature of the time. Down in seedy corners of Chicago I visited stores with floor after floor of dusty books. One place also specialized in collector comics and had a few dime novels. What a discovery! It wasn’t literature for the ages, it was sensational entertainment for the week it was published. Reading these newsstand novels felt like time travel – the stories were written by and for people many years in the past, and with no concern for whether some kid in 1966 would understand it or not. I was hooked.
I spent many years deeply engrossed in an unrelated career but never lost interest in that old literature. Over time I read hundreds of them, especially once the internet made microfilm copies available. A concept came to me of curating collections of these stories that a casual mystery reader could enjoy. The urban crime and detective novels written by Albert Aiken are among my own favorites, and they seem to translate well to our own times. In particular, the Joe Phenix Detective Series is significant because it is one of the earliest detective series with a recurring lead character. More importantly, these can be a lot of fun while still being a very different read from modern stories of the genre. With the chance to be a part of Mark West’s Storied Charlotte blog, I would like to offer a recently published novel from the Joe Phenix Detective Series, Kate Scott, the Decoy Detective; or, Joe Phenix’s Still Hunt.
Detective Joe Phenix encountered the woman who will be his new assistant when the first serial installment of Kate Scott, The Decoy Detective, hit the streets on February 9, 1884 in Beadle’s Weekly. While the novel opens as almost a study in Victorian manners, Kate Scott turns out to be quite a sturdy character. Self-possessed and bold, Kate outwits and escapes from a mastermind of crime, shoots an attacker, and works as a disguised “spy” (undercover agent) for Joe Phenix. As the title page promises, this is a tale that takes the reader from the highest to the lowest reaches of New York society. Now, join Kate Scott for a stroll on the recently opened “New York and Brooklyn Bridge” for a breath of fresh air in novel surroundings. Her evening is not destined to remain peaceful!
Both Mark de Castrique and Mark Williams are drawn to mysteries from the past, and both of them have provided Storied Charlotte with exciting new books in which the past is certainly not dusty.