A rewardingly complex tale of murder in families related by blood and stratified by color in 1839 New Orleans.
Benjamin January (Murder in July, 2017, etc.) is a Paris-trained physician and musician whose mother, Livia, was the mistress of a wealthy Creole man who'd purchased her as a slave and then freed her. His sister, Dominique, is the current mistress of Henri Viellard, a nephew of Veryl St-Chinian, an elderly Creole man with a large interest in many plantations who plans to marry a young Irish girl with a sordid past. January, who is dark-skinned, is asked to play at the wedding, to which many of his pale-complexioned relatives are invited. His sister Olympe, a voodooienne, warns him of danger at Cold Bayou, a remote, crumbling sugar plantation totally unsuited to housing wedding guests. Louisiana law requires every member of a family-owned property to agree on decisions. Because Veryl’s bride, Ellie, would inherit his large share of the estate, his family is doing everything possible to stop the marriage. First a voodoo charm is found in Ellie’s dress. Then the steamboat arrives without the priest but with Ellie’s thuggish uncle, Mick Trask, accompanied by several bully boys. Things get worse. In an attempt to break up a fight, January falls from a balcony and breaks an ankle. Valla, Ellie’s light-complexioned house slave, claims that Ellie’s father loaned money to the man who used to own Livia and was never repaid, which would make Livia and her entire family slaves. Unremitting heat and humidity blanket the plantation, portending a storm as the squabbling families wait for the priest. January is caring for a man hurt in a duel when word arrives that Valla has been murdered. In the dark she could have been mistaken for her mistress, but whichever woman was the target, January knows that a black person will be blamed. When Trask seizes upon January as the culprit, he’s shackled in a room as the plantation is flooded and must rely on others to gather clues and uncover the real killer.
Another atmospheric, beautifully written mystery in which Hambly continues to explore the repugnant practice of classifying people by the color of their skin.