New Orleans, early 1830’s. The Americans have taken over from the French and an entirely new social dynamic is being formed. Before the arrival of the General Jackson and the “Kaintucks”, whites, creoles, quadroons, octaroons and all the varieties of colors and nationalities coexisted in an intricate dance of class hierarchy and only moderately restricted social interaction.
But now, any person of color is just as liable to be hijacked off the streets and sold into slavery. And as the eponymous Free Man of Color, Benjamin January must walk a fine line. After the devastating death of his wife in Paris, January returns from France where he’d finished medical school and played classical piano. But New Orleans is not the same place he remembers. The cultured and educated January is forced to learn his place: stooping, bending and shuffling like any black man is now expected to do.
So when the voluptuous mixed-race courtesan Angelique Crozat is murdered during a Mardi Gras ball, the new white authorities would rather pin the crime on a black man than the prime suspect, the bumbling son of a well-connected plantation owner. And Benjamin January was the last person to see the ravishing but notoriously fickle Angelique alive.
Or was he?
Author Barbara Hambly paints a vivid picture of early nineteenth century New Orleans with all of its richness and slightly dangerous social climate. Her mastery of setting and character more than makes up for the rather tumble-down ending. But then, I hardly ever read a mystery for the whodunit.
You can reserve Barbara Hambly’s A Free Man of Color here.