THE LOWER QUARTER by Elise Blackwell
Kirkus Star


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A man arrives in post-Katrina New Orleans, looking to solve the mystery of a missing painting and a related murder. What he finds is nothing less than love, sacrifice, survival, genius, depravity, and hope.

The talented Blackwell (An Unfinished Score, 2010, etc.) weaves an elaborate web for her four major characters. Elizam, recently released from prison for theft, is hired to find a stolen Belgian masterpiece after two paintings by the same artist are discovered in a hotel room beside a dead man. His investigation quickly leads him to Johanna, a beautiful art restorer with a painful past and a debt owed to Clay, a New Orleans blue blood with creative sexual tastes. Marion, an artist/bartender, begins a relationship with Clay and hires Johanna to restore some of her art, damaged by the recent hurricane. The novel is smoothly and expertly plotted and the characters layered, but at the core lies the city itself: seething, wounded, garish, and unstoppable. Blackwell includes the reader in New Orleans’ sordid, beautiful past and present with sentences such as “This nourished an understanding that a history can be adopted, that the history of the city could be her history and that she could become part of its history, regardless of where she’d been born or how recently she’d arrived. After all, that was what New Orleans had always been: a receiver of outsiders and immigrants, a blender, a granter of new identities, a place where you could disappear and then resurface under new terms.” In this novel, Blackwell has created a vibrant amalgamation of mystery, classic noir, erotica, and ekphrasis. The novel’s greatest strength is how it imbues both the loftiest and the seediest moments with grandeur and pathos without being overwrought or overwritten.

An artful, gritty love story, eulogy, and survivor narrative for the city of New Orleans post-Katrina.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60953-119-5
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2015


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