Crimson Angel


Benjamin January is forced to travel to Haiti to seek his family’s lost treasure, in order to save everything he holds dear

When Jefferson Vitrack – the white half-brother of Benjamin January’s wife - turns up on January’s doorstep in the summer of 1838 claiming he has discovered a clue to the whereabouts of the family’s lost treasure, January has no hesitation about refusing to help look for it. For the treasure lies in Haiti, the island that was once France’s most profitable ...

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Benjamin January is forced to travel to Haiti to seek his family’s lost treasure, in order to save everything he holds dear

When Jefferson Vitrack – the white half-brother of Benjamin January’s wife - turns up on January’s doorstep in the summer of 1838 claiming he has discovered a clue to the whereabouts of the family’s lost treasure, January has no hesitation about refusing to help look for it. For the treasure lies in Haiti, the island that was once France’s most profitable colony – until the blood-chilling repression practiced there by the whites upon their slaves triggered a savage rebellion. The world’s only Black Republic still looks with murderous mistrust upon any strangers who might set foot there, and January is in no hurry to go.

But when Vitrack is murdered, and attempts are made on January’s wife and himself, he understands that he has no choice. He must seek the treasure himself, to draw the unknown killers into the open, a bloody trail that leads first to Cuba, then to Haiti, and finally to the secret that lies buried with the accursed gold.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/13/2014
Set in the summer of 1838, Hambly’s scalding 13th Benjamin January novel (after 2013’s Good Man Friday) takes the freed slave and Paris-trained surgeon to Cuba and Haiti, along with his beloved wife, Rose, and his white fiddler friend, Hannibal Sefton. The trip is prompted by Rose’s white half-brother, Jefferson Vitrack, who appears at their New Orleans home with a mysterious tale of buried family treasure. At first, January refuses to consider pursuing the treasure, which could fund the return of thousands of slaves to Africa. But after Vitrack is murdered and Rose is attacked, January realizes that he must unravel the secret behind his brother-in-law’s story. Members of January’s extended family were employed by the Caribbean sugar industry, which worked thousands of malnourished black slaves to death in an average of three years each. Hambly reveals the horrors of this grim chapter of history through understated glimpses into the mind of her hero, whose silent comment on the ferocious slave uprising that established Haiti as a black republic in 1804 sums up his attitude toward the white oppressors: “They had it coming.” Agent: Frances Collin, Frances Collin Literary Agency. (Dec.)
“Series fans should particularly enjoy this one.”
Kirkus Reviews
A former slave must return to Haiti to uncover a dark secret. Paris-trained physician Benjamin January is now a free man of color working as a musician in 1838 New Orleans to support his wife and young son. The arrival of wife Rose's white half brother, Jeoff Vitrac, should be a joyous occasion, but the visit brings nothing but trouble. Descendants of an aristocratic French family, the de Gericaults, Rose, Jeoff, and Aramis have heard tales of a family treasure hidden at the former family estate in Haiti. Jeoff asks Ben to help find the treasure, but Ben refuses, knowing he'd probably face a death sentence if he returned to the Black Republic of Haiti, where the slaves rose up against their oppressors, killing almost all the white plantation owners before turning to fight among themselves for control. Soon after unknown people start watching their house, Jeoff is murdered and Rose stabbed in the street. They leave the baby with Ben's sister and flee to Aramis' Grand Isle plantation, where the attacks continue. As much as he abhors the idea, Ben realizes that they'll never escape persecution until they find out whether the treasure still exists. Ben's friend the white musician Hannibal helps them by pretending Rose is his mistress and Ben his valet as they embark on a trip to Cuba in search of more clues. When Rose is kidnapped, Hannibal and Ben have no choice but to follow her to Haiti, a place where death waits around every corner. Hambly's long-running series (Good Man Friday, 2014, etc.) pulls no punches in describing the brutality of the period, when slaves and women, both possessions under the law, had little recourse for ill-treatment. The mystery is the least of this adventurous tale.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780727884275
  • Publisher: Severn House Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/1/2014
  • Series: A Benjamin January Series, #13
  • Edition description: First World Publication
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 147,546
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Hambly holds a degree in medieval history from the University of California and has written novels in many genres, from mysteries to science fiction and fantasy. Married to science fiction writer George Alec Effinger, she lives in Los Angeles and teaches at a local college.

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Read an Excerpt

Crimson Angel

A Benjamin January Novel

By Barbara Hambly

Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2014 Barbara Hambly
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8427-5


'Rosie!' The young man sprang from the cab in Rue Esplanade, took two strides toward the steps of Benjamin January's high-built old Spanish house, then turned back to pay the driver – which gave January the chance to put his head through the French door into the candlelit parlor and signal Tommy, one of the runaway slaves currently taking refuge beneath January's roof, to get the hell back under the house.

If one had to run a school without scholars in this poverty-stalked year of 1838, January reasoned, the least one could do was take advantage of the fact and give shelter to those fleeing through New Orleans, heading North.

In this poverty-stalked year of 1838, anything you could do to give God a better opinion of you and your family would be a help.

He stepped back on to the gallery as his wife rose from her bent-willow chair, her face alight with pleasure, and the young man bounded up the stairs: 'Look at you!' As their visitor caught Rose's hands and spread them out to suit his own action to his words, January wondered where he'd seen him before: tallish and a little awkward, with just enough blond in his walnut-brown curls to catch glints from the mosquito-smudges that ranged along the gallery rail in the humid summer dusk. His French was purest Creole, but his dark silk waistcoat and the cut of his frock-coat screamed American.

Only when Rose cried, 'Jeoff!' did January guess who this had to be, and who the young man's face reminded him of.

He looked like Rose's white brother, a planter down on Grand Isle named Aramis Vitrac.

And a little like Rose.

Rose and 'Jeoff' turned to him, and Jeoff caught his hand. 'You must be Ben.' Like Rose, this younger brother (surely younger, since Aramis – younger than Rose – has the plantation) had a lovely smile, though unlike Rose he displayed it freely. Like Rose he was tall, but he still had to look up at January's massive height. 'I have to start by thanking you, sir: I've never seen my sister look so happy.'

January returned the smile. 'I try, sir.'

'Jefferson.' The young man produced a card. 'Jefferson Vitrack.' He pronounced it American-fashion, rhyming it with hat rack, instead of putting stress on the final syllable and giving it a glottal French 'a'. Even before he held the card close to the nearest mosquito-smudge to read it, January knew the address would be north of Mason's and Dixon's Line.

He was half-right. One address was in Philadelphia, the other in Washington City.

Both places where the younger son of an impoverished French planter could find more opportunity to afford well-cut coats and sober silk waistcoats than he'd have in the bayous of Louisiana.

Rose's hazel-green eyes sparkled with delight behind her spectacles. 'Jefferson now, is it? Jeoffrey is no longer good enough?'

Jeoff laughed, and Zizi-Marie – January's niece, who like the runaways was sheltering under the big old house's ramshackle roof, though in her case this was due to the fact that her father hadn't worked since the bank crash eighteen months previously – brought out a branch of candles from the parlor to set on the little wicker table. But when she bent to gather up Baby John from under his tent of mosquito-bar to take him inside, Jeoff cried, 'Whoa, who's this?' and for a time they grouped around the infant: talk, laughter, introductions all around. Gabriel, Zizi-Marie's fifteen-year-old brother, came out with new-made coffee and the last of the pralines from dinner – Gabriel had a genius for small feasts on the spur of any given moment – and it was full-dark before Jefferson Vitrack was able to get to the matter which had brought him to New Orleans and to Benjamin January's front gallery.

'Do you remember this?' He fished in his waistcoat pocket and brought out something that he handed Rose. Something red and gold, which glittered.

In the cobalt night, far down Rue Esplanade, the clang of bells from the few steamboats on the wharves sounded as small as a night bird's cry. A few streets closer, the dim commotion of gambling hells floated like lingering smoke: it would take Armageddon to shut down the gaming parlors of New Orleans, and even then January was pretty certain the Four Horsemen would be able to find someplace to play a few hands before rolling up the heavens and the earth like a scroll. Summer was the dead season in town, at the end of a second disastrous year, with most of the city's banks still closed and one shopfront in three locked up for lack of business. Andrew Jackson, hero of the war with England, had proved a less than astute commander of a nation that depended on banking and credit for its prosperity, and though he was out of office now, everyone in the country was still paying the price of his prejudice against centralized banks.

So now, more than ever, the sparkle of gold was like a little twinkle of music in the candle glow.

'Good heavens!' said Rose. 'It's L'Ange Rouge!'

January took it: a Crimson Angel indeed, stiff and small and very old. On its ivory face, scarcely bigger than a child's fingernail, only traces of paintwork lingered in the lips and eyes. The robe of cloisonné enamel was bright as blood, as were the feathers of the half-unfurled wings. Altogether she was less tall than January's little finger, and a loop rising from the gold of her hair told him she'd once been a pendant on a necklace, or had hung, perhaps, on the corner of a candle-branch or lamp.

'She's supposedly the guardian of the de Gericault family. At least that's what our Granmère Vitrac, and her maid Mammy Pé, always said. Granmère had a ring with her on it as well.' Rose turned back to Jeoff. 'Where did you get this?'

'A pawnshop on Girod Street.'

'A pawnshop?'

He held up a finger mysteriously and turned to January. 'My brother Aramis writes me that you solve puzzles, Ben. Catch murderers and thieves, and find buried treasure.'

'I found one buried treasure, sir,' pointed out January with a sigh. 'And only because the crooks who were looking for it practically shoved it under my nose.'

Rose laughed – bright and flickering like her smile, and as quickly tucked away. 'Don't tell me the de Gericault treasure has finally surfaced?'

January's eyebrows went up. 'Is there a family treasure?'

'Supposedly. Nothing to do with us.' She turned back to her younger brother. 'But this particular Crimson Angel belonged to Mammy Ginette. If it's the same one,' she added doubtfully. 'There could have been several, for all we know.'

'I think it's the same.' With the air of a conjuror producing marvels, Jefferson Vitrack drew a thick yellow envelope from his breast pocket, and from it extracted two columns clipped from a newspaper. 'They're from the Washington Intelligencer.' He passed them to January. 'The last week of May.'

When I was still on the high seas, remembered January, coming back from Washington myself ... With a bullet-hole in his side that still hurt like the very devil whenever he turned his shoulders, and a hundred and fifty dollars from a planter whose missing friend he'd located: funds upon which the January family would be able to live until Christmas.

ESCAPE FROM MURDER Michael Donnelley

A small party of intrepid Americans – the Malcolm Loveridges of New York and their beautiful daughter Desdemona, Mr James Blakeney, also of New York, Mr and Mrs Thomas Powderleigh of Washington and Mr Loveridge's valet Hans Gruber, and the writer of this article – barely escaped from the vengeful machetes of rebelling slaves in the isolated Pinar del Río province of Cuba, by a combination of daring and miraculous luck ...

'This was originally printed in the Herald,' said Vitrack as January's eye skimmed the columns. 'The writer, Donnelley, is a reporter for that paper.' He opened the yellow envelope again and thumbed quickly through the contents: newspaper clippings with dates and provenance written at the tops, neatly-ordered notes in a precise hand, letters carefully folded and arranged by date.

'It was reprinted in the True American as well.' Rose peered around January's shoulder. 'I remember thinking that it sounded like the Crimson Angel.'

... but Providence took a hand in the shape of an old slave-woman whom Miss Loveridge had earlier befriended. In the face of the smuggler-captain's adamant refusal to transport us to safety 'on credit,' as the saying goes, this woman produced from somewhere in the recesses of her rags a tiny golden angel, an exquisite miracle of crimson enamel, gold, and ivory. 'She be all dat left ob hidden treasure,' the old woman assured us. 'My mama's ole marse, he hide his gold – hide diamonds an' jools, 'nuff to buy de whole of Cuba! – hide it so none but de fambly can find it. But he gib dis to my mama, an' she to me ...'

'I didn't know anything of theirs had survived.'

'Neither did I,' said her brother. 'Until I read this.' He turned to January, his handsome features – long and narrow, like Rose's, as were his slender hands – filled with a grave brightness. 'I think it ironic,' he said, 'and yet in a way fitting that this has come into my hands. None but the family, she said ... And only I – and Rose and our brother Aramis – know the significance of this –' he held up the little golden thing, ruby and flame in the candlelight – 'and how it can lead to inestimable good for thousands of poor souls. Yourselves included, I hope and trust.'


'In 1732,' said Jefferson Vitrack, taking a sip of Gabriel's excellent coffee, 'our great-great grandfather, Barthélmy de Gericault, came to the colony of Saint-Domingue. The western third of the Spanish island of Hispaniola had been ceded to France by the Treaty of Ryswick thirty-five years previously, and a great many Frenchmen – both of the nobility and of the bourgeoise – had invested in sugar plantations there and were making substantial fortunes.'

'And were importing a hundred thousand slaves a year from Africa, towards the end,' remarked January softly. Generally, the old gentlemen who spent their days drinking coffee at the Café des Refugies on the Rue de la Levée didn't care to be reminded of the blacks who'd comprised seventeen out of eighteen inhabitants of 'the fairest jewel in the crown of France', as the colony had been called. But if Vitrack was going to bring up why his forebears had left that tropical paradise he couldn't very well pretend the slaves hadn't been there. 'Most didn't last three years in the sugar fields.' He watched his brother-inlaw's face as he said it and saw, to his surprise, not annoyance but sadness darken the hazel-green eyes and tighten his mouth.

'It was ... barbaric,' agreed Vitrack. 'Inexcusable.'

And as it turned out, reflected January, stupid as well. What did those planters on Saint-Domingue THINK was going to happen?

But he knew better than to say that even to the most sympathetic of white abolitionists.

After a moment of silence, the young man went on. 'Barthélmy was the younger son of the Comte de Caillot; his mother was the only daughter of the Vicomte de Gericault. It was understood that the de Gericault estate was to come to him upon the death of her father. For whatever reason, the Comte thought it best that his younger son go to make his fortune in the Americas, and when the old Comte died, and then Vicomte de Gericault a year later, Barthélmy's older brother, Belleange, took BOTH his father's title of the Comte de Caillot AND the de Gericault title and lands for himself. Barthélmy sued to get the de Gericault title, but Belleange had married into one of the judiciary families that ruled the Parlement of Paris, and it was impossible to get a judgement against him.'

He paused, as if expecting the usual American exclamation of, 'What the hell—?' and ready to explain the appalling mess of the French legal system before Napoleon had come along and straightened it out at gunpoint.

But January had spent sixteen years in Paris under the restored Bourbons, studying and practicing the arts of surgery and later – when it became obvious that even in the land of Liberté, Egalité, etc. nobody was going to hire a surgeon who looked like a cotton-hand – playing the piano, and he'd heard all about the Parlement of Paris.

'Well.' Their visitor broke a praline into precise quarters and arranged them symmetrically on his plate. 'The court case dragged on for decades. The best Barthélmy could manage was to arrange a marriage between his son, Absalon, and Belleange's daughter. But on Belleange's death, Belleange's son Neron claimed both titles, and the matter still hadn't been resolved when the Revolution came and made the entire point moot.'

'Our granmère,' put in Rose, 'was the product of Absalon's marriage to his cousin.'

The cheerfulness with which she spoke the words gave January, for an instant, a sense of seeing his wife across a vast chasm, as if she – and her white half-brother – were the inhabitants of a different world. And MY granmère, he thought, was kidnapped from her home, loaded on to a ship, and raped by a sailor – possibly by the entire crew – on her way across before being sold to work as a field-slave for what little remained of her life. And she saw her half-white daughter grow up with no hope of ever being anything but a slave or a whore.

And he didn't wonder at it, that the librés – the free colored – of New Orleans dealt with the blacks – slave or freed – as a different race, a different culture, a different species.

Rose – intelligent, educated, and kind, with a deep, cool kindness that had taken years to flower – was the daughter of the free people of color, descended from the mixed blood of black women and white men who had granted to their offspring many, but not all, the privileges of whiteness, the chief of them being assurance that they wouldn't be sold away from everyone they knew at a moment's notice. They were able to make their livings more or less as they wished, the boys from educations their white fathers paid for, the girls – if they were pretty – as the plaçées – the 'placed women' – of other white men who could afford such mistresses. That Rose was his wife and not a plaçée was due to a combination of temperament and circumstance, but she was, he saw now without anger or resentment, a libré to the ends of her ink-stained fingers.

She saw herself as primarily the descendant of white people.

She saw them – or some of them – as being her family, in a way January's mother, for all her pretense of being like the other free colored plaçées of New Orleans, never could.

His reluctant amusement at his mother's pretensions took away some of the sting of that chasm: she was what she was. And Rose, dearly as he loved her, was what she was. So he turned his eyes from the hell pit of that past, as he had taught himself to do, and only asked, 'And I take it Granmère married a man from Louisiana?'

'From Bordeaux, actually,' said Vitrack. 'Oliva de Gericault married Louis-Charles Vitrac –' he pronounced it in the French fashion this time – 'in 1786, when she was sixteen. He'd come to Cap Francais – the capital of Saint-Domingue – as clerk for a shipping company. I think they met at church. The de Gericault plantation, La Châtaigneraie, lay only five or six miles from the town. Their son – our father –' he nodded at Rose, with the friendly acknowledgement common in French Creole families of relatives 'on the shady side of the street' – 'was born in Cap Francais a year later, and they fled with Absalon de Gericault and his family to Cuba in 1791.'

In 1791. January turned the phrase over in his mind. For all Jefferson Vitrack's opinion that the importation of millions of men and women like his grandmother, to die in the cane fields of Saint-Domingue and Louisiana, was inexcusable, there was a little bit of this young white man that flinched from saying, 'When the slaves finally revolted.'


Excerpted from Crimson Angel by Barbara Hambly. Copyright © 2014 Barbara Hambly. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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