Graveyard Dust: A Novel of Suspense

Graveyard Dust: A Novel of Suspense

4.5 14
by Barbara Hambly
     
 

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Bestselling author Barbara Hambly's A Free Man of Color and Fever Season established Benjamin January as one of mystery's most exciting heroes. Now he returns in a powerful new novel, a sensual mosaic of old New Orleans, where cultures clash and murder can hover around every darkened corner....

It is St. John's Eve in the summer of 1834 whenSee more details below

Overview

Bestselling author Barbara Hambly's A Free Man of Color and Fever Season established Benjamin January as one of mystery's most exciting heroes. Now he returns in a powerful new novel, a sensual mosaic of old New Orleans, where cultures clash and murder can hover around every darkened corner....

It is St. John's Eve in the summer of 1834 when Benjamin January—Creole physician and music teacher—is shattered by the news that his sister has been arrested for murder. The Guards have only a shadow of a case against her. But Olympe—mystical and rebellious—is a woman of color, whose chance for justice is slim.

As Benjamin probes the allegation, he is targeted by a new threat: graveyard dust sprinkled at his door, whispering of a voodoo death curse. Now, to save Olympe's life—and his own—Benjamin knows he must glean information wherever he can find it. For in the heavy darkness of New Orleans, the truth is what you make it, and justice can disappear with the night's warm breeze as easy as graveyard dust....


From the Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Toby Bromberg
Graveyard Dust is a sumptuous read, full of the colorful sights and sounds of 19th-century New Orleans. Hambly has researched the era well, and the reader is treated to a journey back in time as well as a first-rate mystery.
Rormantic Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Voodoo deities and infectious diseases pervade the fetid summer atmosphere of the latest Benjamin January adventure. A musician, surgeon and free man of color in 1834 New Orleans, Ben is also a sleuth. Now he must investigate the recent death of one Isaak Jumon in order to free his own sister, Olympe, a voodoo priestess who has been accused of abetting the murder by supplying a poison to Isaak's young wife. But the woman claims that she did not buy poison from Olympe, rather that she obtained a hex directed at Isaak's avaricious mother, the widow of a wealthy New Orleans plantation owner. Ben's encounters with the city's intricate stratification of wealth, color, religion and nationality give this third in the series (after the acclaimed Fever Season) considerable texture. While he unravels the mystery, Ben also struggles on personal fronts: to recover from the loss of his wife to cholera; to stem the current epidemics of cholera and yellow fever, to endure the injustices of his society; to accept his sister's voodoo practices despite his Catholic beliefs. Hambly's plot, which revolves around evils confined to no race or class, is complex and often hard to track, but its emotional authenticity, varied cast and rich historical trappings give the novel power and depth. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Voodoo, murder, and child abuse are the subject of Hambly's latest New Orleans historical featuring Benjamin January, free man of color (Fever Season). The year is 1834, and January seeks to free his sister, who has been jailed for a voodoo-related murder. As he follows the trail, aided by his friend Hannibal, his own life is threatened by a monstrous fellow with the fateful name of Killdevil. While the city struggles to keep cholera in check, January stays one step ahead of his would-be assassin, interviewing the family and friends of the victim and the accused. An intricate plot twist is a welcome surprise in a relatively slow read, but fans who have gone down this road and enjoyed Hambly's long descriptions of the many-tiered colored culture of the time will want to visit again. Recommended for libraries with previous books in the series. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/99.]--Shirley Gibson Coleman, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Marilyn Stasio
[Benjamin January] is the ultimate exile, the keenest observer of ''the custom of the country,'' but by virtue of his color, class and sensibility, excluded from sharing — or overthrowing — its values.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
When he plays the piano for society stalwarts, black ex-surgeon Benjamin January hears New Orleans echoes of the national conversation about the National Bank•breaking policies of President Andrew Jackson and expressive silences about the yellow fever epidemic that's rampaging through the city. Off the bandstand, though, January is more concerned about the fate of his sister, Olympe Corbier, a voodooiene who's been arrested along with young Célie Gèrard for conspiring to feed Célie's bridegroom Isaak Jumon arsenic. The evidence includes a damning statement from the dying Isaak himself. And Olympe knows better than to expect much help from her codefendant, whose father is able to raise the bail that will set her free while Olympe waits in jail for her trial•which will end as soon as 12 jurors decide whether an acknowledged practitioner of voodoo with unlimited access to the fatal poison happened to slip it to this particular victim. Her chances of acquittal look so poor that January (Fever Season, 1998, etc.) plunges into an investigation of the newlyweds' families, from Isaak's mother Geneviève, his late father's former slave, to Célie's iron-willed grandmother•an investigation that will uncover secrets as miasmal as yellow fever and even more evil. Hambly continues to dramatize problems of race and class through her trademark exotic settings and situations•including the most florid courtroom fireworks you've ever seen•all building to the revelation of a powerfully imagined, though easily spotted, killer.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307785299
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/05/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
136,684
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

African drums in darkness sullen as tar.

Rossini's "Di tanti palpiti" unspooling like golden ribbon from the ballroom's open windows.

Church bells and thunder.

Benjamin January flexed his aching shoulders and thought, Rain coming. Leaning on the corner of Colonel Pritchard's ostentatious house, he could smell the sharp scent in the hot weight of the night, hear the shift in the feverish tempo of the crickets and the frogs. The dim orange glow of an oil lamp fell through the servants' door beside him, tipping the weeds beyond the edge of the yard with fire.

Then the air changed, a cool flash of silkiness on his cheek, and he smelled blood.

The drums knocked and tripped, dancing rhythms. Fairly close to the house, he thought. This far above Canal Street the lots in the American suburb of St. Mary were large, and few had been built on yet. Ten feet from kitchen, yard, and carriage house grew the native oaks and cypresses of the Louisiana swamps, as they had grown for time beyond reckoning. January picked out the voices of the drums, as on summer nights like this one in his childhood he'd used to tell frog from frog. That light knocking would be a hand drum no bigger than a vase, played with fast-tripping fingertips. The heavy fast thudding was the bamboula, the log drum--a big one, by the sound. The hourglass-shaped tenor spoke around them, patted sharply on both sides.

One of the men on the plantation where January had been born had had one of those. He'd kept it hidden in a black oak, back in the cipriere, the swamp beyond the cane fields. Forty years ago, when the Spanish had ruled the land, for a slave to own a drum was a whipping offense.

"Not meaning to presume, sir." Aeneas, Colonel Pritchard's cook, stepped from the kitchen's gold-lit arch and crossed the small yard to where January stood at the foot of the back gallery stairs.  "But I'd be getting back up to the ballroom were I you." A stout man of about January's own forty-one years, the cook executed a diffident little half bow as he spoke. It was a tribute to January's status as a free man, though the cook was far lighter of skin. "Colonel Pritchard's been known to dock a man's pay, be he gone for more than a minute or two. I seen him do it with a fiddle player, only the other week."

January sighed, not surprised. The kitchen's doors and windows stood wide to the sweltering night, and the nervous glances thrown by the cook, the majordomo, and the white-jacketed waiter toward the house every time one of them cracked a joke or consumed a tartlet that should have gone on the yellow-flowered German china told its own story. "Thank you." January drew his gloves from his coat pocket and put them on again, white kid and thirty cents a pair, and even that movement caused bolts of red-hot lightning to shoot through his shoulder blades, muscles, and spine. He'd been a surgeon for six years at the Hotel-Dieu in Paris and knew exactly how heavy a human arm was, but it seemed to him that he'd never quite appreciated that weight as he did now, after an hour and a half of playing quick-fire waltzes and polkas on the piano with an injury that hadn't healed.

A shift of the night air brought the smell of smoke again, the knocking of the drums, and the hot brief stink of blood. His eyes met the cook's. The cook looked away.

Not my business, thought January, and mounted the stairs. He guessed what was going on.

The air in the ballroom seemed waxy and thick as ambergris: one could have cut it in slices with a wire. Pomade and wool, spilled wine and the gas lamps overhead, and--because at least two-thirds of the guests were Americans--the acrid sweet sourness of spit tobacco. January edged through the servants' door and, behind the screen of potted palmettos and wilting vines that sheltered the musicians, sought to resume his seat at the piano as inconspicuously as it was possible for a man six feet, three inches tall; built like a bull; and black as a raw captive new-dragged down the gangplank of a slave ship from the Guinea coast, and never mind the neat black coat, the linen shirt and white gloves, the spotless cravat.

Hannibal Sefton, who'd been distracting the guests from the fact that there hadn't been a dance for nearly ten minutes, glanced at him inquiringly and segued from "Di tanti" into a Schubert lied; January nodded his thanks. The fiddler was sheet white in the gaslight and perspiration ran down the shivering muscles of his clenched jaw, but the music flowed gracefully, like angels dancing. January didn't know how he did it. Since an injury in April, January had been unable to play at any of the parties that made up his livelihood in America--he should not, he knew, be playing now; but finances were desperate, and it would be a long summer. He, at least, he thought, had the comfort of knowing that he would heal.

Voices around them, rough and nasal in the harsh English tongue January hated:

"Oh, hell, it's just a matter of time before the Texians have enough of Santa Anna. Just t'other day I heard there's been talk of them breakin' from Mexico. . . ."

"Paid seven hundred and thirty dollars for her at the downtown Exchange, and turns out not only was she not a cook, but she has scrofula into the bargain!"

Colonel Pritchard was an American, and a fair percentage of New Orleans's American business community had turned out to sample Aeneas's cold sugared ham and cream tarts. But here and there in the corners of the room could be heard the softer purr of Creole French.

"Any imbecile can tell you the currency must be made stable, but why this imbecile Jackson believes he can do so by handing the country's money to a parcel of criminals. . . ."

And, ominously, "My bank, sir, was one of those to receive the redistributed monies from the Bank of the United States. . . ."

"You all right?" Uncle Bichet leaned around his violoncello to whisper, and January nodded. A lie. He felt as if knives were being run into his back with every flourish of the piano keys. In the pause that followed the lied, while January, Hannibal, Uncle Bichet, and nephew Jacques changed their music to the "Lancers Quadrille," the drums could be clearly heard, knocking and tapping not so very far from the house.

You forget us? they asked, and behind them thunder grumbled over the lake. You play Michie Mozart's little tunes, and forget all about us out here drumming in the cipriere?

All those years in Paris, Michie Couleur Libre in your black wool coat, you forget about us?

About how it felt to know everything could be taken away?  Father-mother-sisters all gone? Nobody to know or care if you cried? You forget what it was, to be a slave?

If you think a man has to be a slave to lose everything he loves at a whim, January said to the drums, pray let me introduce you to Monsieur le Cholera and to her who in her life was my wife. And with a flirt and a leap, the music sprang forward, like a team of bright-hooved horses, swirling the drums' dark beat away.  Walls of shining gold, protecting within them the still center that the world's caprices could not touch.

In the strange white gaslight, alien and angular and so different from the candle glow in which most of the French Creoles still lived, January picked out half a dozen women present in the magpie prettiness of second mourning, calling cards left by Monsieur le Cholera and his local cousin Bronze John, as the yellow fever was called. Technically, Suzanne Marcillac Pritchard's birthday ball was a private party, not a public occasion, suitable even for widows in first mourning to attend--not that there weren't boxes at the Theatre d'Orleans closed in with latticework so that the recently bereaved could respectably enjoy the opera.


From the Paperback edition.

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