Weekend Reads: A Free Man of Color

One of the things I am finding most interesting in my research for Bayou Fire is the 1830s New Orleans culture of free people of color.  The social hierarchy was very different in the Vieux Carré than it was in the American district on the other side of Canal Street, and that led to some interesting challenges in governing.

This is one of the books I read strictly for fun in my quest for additional information about the time and period.  We can learn a lot about atmosphere from well-researched historical fiction.

A Free Man of Color (Benjamin January, #1)A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I discovered this series by accident, picking up somewhere in the middle of it. Luckily, the books are able to stand on their own without starting at the beginning!

Anyway, this book introduces Benjamin Janvier, a free man of color in Jacksonian New Orleans. He is a musician by trade, although he studied in Paris to be a surgeon. He is the pianist at a quadroon ball where one of the demimonde’s most sought after plaçees (a free woman of color who is a white man’s mistress) is murdered … and because he is so quickly on the scene to examine the body, suspicion falls immediately upon him rather than blame a white man. Luckily for Janvier, the white American sheriff, Abishag Shaw, is a little deeper than he initially seems … and allows Benjamin an opportunity to clear his name.

The book is peopled with real historical figures like Marie Laveau and Delphine LaLaurie, and gives an interesting look at life for both people of color and white Creoles during the time period. Furthermore, there were some surprising twists and turns in the mystery that took me by surprise (hard to do, because I read a lot of “whodunnits”), and did so in a very satisfying way.

I highly recommend this series.

View all my reviews

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