Arts & Culture

NC-based mystery series takes on politics, film and a 1940s murder

“Hidden Scars” by Mark de Castrique. Poisoned Pen Press, 256 pages.

Mark de Castrique’s North Carolina mystery series takes on a sore subject: the legislature’s dismantling of film incentives that brought big-name projects like “The Hunger Games” and “Homeland” to film here.


Detectives Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson are looking into a death in the 1940s associated with Black Mountain College, a progressive campus that attracted innovators like Buckminster Fuller and Merce Cunningham. A movie being filmed on the defunct campus gives them a chance to question people who might remember the college in its heyday, but then the production proves to be plagued with accidents and deaths that widen their investigation.

De Castrique explores the history of the unique college and race relations in the late 1940s against his accustomed backdrop of Asheville attractions, which will have you planning a leaf-peeping trip.

“Sleeping Beauties” by Stephen and Owen King. Scribner, 720 pages.

Stephen King and his son Owen co-wrote this story of a sudden worldwide phenomenon where women who go to sleep grow a cocoon-like covering and don’t wake up.

The story centers on a small town with a women’s prison, which gives the Kings lots of jumping-off places for subplots, including: what lands a woman in prison, the meth culture in rural America, and misogyny in overt forms like domestic violence and more subtle forms, like assumptions in a marriage. They also expertly plumb the pathological nature of disaster coverage in the age of viral video and 24-hour news.

When their bodies are cocooned, the women wake up in a strange place that looks like the ruins of the town where they went to sleep. What happens in Testosterone World vs. what happens in Estrogen World is a fascinating contrast. (Hint: Things tend to blow up more on the men’s side.)

Father and son write seamlessly, with never a wrinkle in the story’s fabric to show where the handoffs happened. More, please!

“What the Hell Did I Just Read” by David Wong. St. Martin’s, 384 pages.

David Wong is a long way from tea and cozies, but he just makes me laugh out loud, and we all need a laugh these days, right? This is the third in a series that started with “John Dies at the End,” in which Dave and his friend John ingested a substance they call Soy Sauce that lets them see the proverbial things that go bump in the night.

A child abduction is flagged as being “a Dave and John case,” which means there’s a supernatural element. While John, Dave and Dave’s girlfriend Amy follow the occult clues, a shadowy government organization is also taking an interest and complicating the investigation by doing things like taking the three to alternate dimensions so they can be simultaneously interrogated.

For an obscenity-laced joyride that feels like channeling H.P. Lovecraft on LSD, the story can be surprisingly thoughtful in side trips into philosophy, the nature of perception, and the effect of depression on loved ones.