When his crony Jack Amsterdam is murdered in December, 1941, ostensibly by a prostitute at the Bella Creole Hotel, corrupt New Orleans councilman Whit Richards is rattled. Richards knows better, a suspicion confirmed when more colleagues are killed. The prime suspects include high-profile black muscle-for-hire Easter Coupé and the dim, thuggish Parmalee brothers, Johnny and Joey. As Richards parries questions from dogged police captain Frank Casey and waits warily for an attack on himself, the killer ups the ante by kidnapping Richards’s teenage daughter Jessica, in broad daylight, from the campus of Sacred Heart Academy. Black custodian Skeeter Longbaugh, witnessing the crime, thereby also becomes a target. Richards’s estranged wife Georgia, a faded belle who thinks he’d display more urgency about the kidnapping if the victim were his secretary Meredith, with whom he’s having an affair, appeals to streetwise nightclub owner and sometime sleuth Wesley Farrell, her first and only love. To the chagrin of his pampered lady friend Savanna Beaulieu, Farrell takes the case. A Creole who passes for white, Farrell moves easily between segregated societies of New Orleans, bolstering his legwork by consulting Casey and Negro Squad Sergeant Israel Daggett, who’s investigating the kidnapping. Jessica, meanwhile, works hard to engineer an escape. Also in the mix are Richards’s nemesis Pete Carson, a gullible galoot named Butterbean Glasgo, and an extensive array of cops, bodyguards, and painted ladies.
The sixth installment in the Farrell series (Pale Skin, 2001, etc.) seems to have lost its moorings. Its scattershot plot and overcrowded cast of underdeveloped characters alternately frustrate and confuse.