Insight News

Feb 11th

America’s oldest incorporated Black town the scene of a NC mystery

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thescentofgardeniaIn 1999 when Hurricane Floyd washed caskets from the ground in eastern North Carolina, many people saw horror. M.E.B. Smith saw a mystery. “Watching those boxes float through a town that I know made the devastation of Princeville real for those of us seeing it on TV,” she says. “I love mysteries, and those caskets began to play like a movie in my head. From that, The Scent of Gardenia: A Killing in Princeville took form.”

The premise of her novel is this: In the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, the bones of a white woman are discovered in one of the caskets that floated through town. She’s been murdered and secretly buried in a black cemetery over 30 years before. Her death becomes the intersection for a ritual killer who thinks himself sent by God, the death of a bisexual who knew her identity, and the downfall of the accomplice who unknowingly put her in the grave. Finding the truth becomes a matter of death and consequences for everyone in the killer’s path.

When asked what makes her story unique, Smith smiles and says, “First, The Scent of Gardenia is set in the oldest black incorporated town in America. While a lot of people may know about Princeville, not many know its place in history. I want to bring attention to that. Second, a lot has been written about Hurricane Floyd, but mostly from an academic point of view. I hope enough time has passed that what I have written can be labeled entertaining. But what’s most unique is it’s a story within a story within a story. In fact, one reader called it ‘deliciously complicated.’ North Carolina is rich in legends and mysteries; legends are a southern legacy. As a child, I fell in love with those stories. SOG has four mythic stories that are extracted a children’s book and young adult book so parents and kids are reading the same thing and can talk about it. I think that’s kinda cool.”

Could this become one of North Carolina’s folklores? She grins big this time and says, “Now that would be cool.”

mebsmithMary E Blackmon Smith (daughter to James and Lula Caple) attended Shaw and Scotland High Schools, and St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina--Pembroke. Smith is a former Manager of Corporate Responsibility for Cummins Engine Company. She has two adult daughters; both attended A&T State University. She now resides in Charlotte, NC.

Newly released, The Scent of Gardenia has already received a black book award and was featured online by Black Publishers and Writers Association. It is slated for national release in June distributed by Westry Wingate Group, and available in all bookstores. Visit: for an overview and chapter one of the novel. The author is available for book club discussions in person or online. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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