The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb (Berger and Mitry)
by David Handler
Cover Artist: Hugh Syme
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250041975
Date: 25 March 2014 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
The past refuses to stay buried in David Handler's nasty little mystery, The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb. I say "nasty" because the skeleton is of a man who was Mr. Popularity in 1967--an extremely handsome man who served in the Navy. He was the proverbial life of the party. He was also a womanizing adulterer who literally had sex with every woman he could. This novel is rife with gossip and one of the rumors was that the victim could have been a closeted homosexual who tried proving to himself that he wasn't gay through his sexual conquests. This, however, like so many other tidbits of juicy gossip, was never proven. Nevertheless, many of the elderly female characters, it is learned, were quick to raise their skirts for the victim who was despised and hated by many other men.
The suspects, consisting of both males and females, are many. I didn't have a clue as to who killed the man found beneath the street. Honestly, after learning of his reputation, I thought he deserved his comeuppance. The victim was a sleazebag. (Everyone has encountered someone like him in their lives.) However, there is a second murder and the victim in this case is a total opposite of the first one. I was extremely distraught. Justice, I decided, had to be served. The killer, or killers, had to be found and punished. The author had successfully yanked my heart strings and drawn me back into the fray.
I am amazed at how quickly time passes. Back in the sixties, many of the novel's suspects were young, just beginning their lives and their careers. Some of them became extremely successful businessmen and politicians. I was quick to judge their amoral activities in the 1960's but then I remember this was the crazy sixties, the decadent decade, the age of discovery. I was born in the early sixties myself and remember very little of it. Some television shows and many films were controversial; they were pushing the envelope. Studios were like children; they were testing their boundaries, learning what they could get away with before the censors slapped them down.
Reading David Handler's The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb was like reading someone's grandmother's diary and learning she and her friends were tramps, floozies, and possibly even murderers. You don't imagine the novel's old, gray-haired, feeble people were once young, beautiful, athletic, and capable of murder.
Handler's The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb (following The Snow White Christmas Cookie and The Blood Red Indian Summer) is an excellent addition to the wonderfully whacky and intriguing Des Mitry and Mitch Berger series. It is highly recommended for fans of cold case mysteries and Agatha Christie-like whodunits. It's a playful, eye-opening reminder that one day I will be old. Then my tomb will inevitably follow. I just hope mine isn't made of coal black asphalt. Until then, I'll be waiting impatiently for the next Mitch Berger and Des Mitry mystery.