Andy Broussard, the plump and proud New Orleans medical examiner,
obviously loves food. Less apparent to the casual observer is his hatred of murderers. Together with his gorgeous sidekick, psychologist Kit
Franklyn, the two make a powerful, although improbable, mystery-solving duo. Among the dead collected in The Big Easy floodwaters after
Hurricane Katrina are three nude female bodies, all caught in the same brush tangle, none with water in their lungs; not an act of God, and not the work of Katrina.Broussard has perhaps the biggest challenge of his colorful career. Solve an impossibly perplexing mystery, while the city and all its records are destroyed, practically the entire population is scattered, the police force has no offices, and many of the rank and file (who haven't defected) are homeless. Soon, Andy and Kit are on a dangerous journey through the obscenely damaged city, leading them to a kind of evil that neither of them could've imagined.
About the Author
D.J. Donaldson is a retired professor of anatomy and neurobiology. His entire academic career was spent at the University of
Tennessee, Health Science Center, where he published dozens of papers on wound-healing and taught microscopic anatomy to thousands of medical and dental students. He is also the author of seven published forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee,
with his wife and two West Highland terriers. In the spring of most years, he simply cannot stop buying new flowers and other plants for the couple's prized backyard garden.
Read an Excerpt
Bad Karma in the Big Easy
By D. J. Donaldson
Astor + Blue Editions, LLCCopyright © 2014 D.J. DONALDSON
All rights reserved.
Andy Broussard, Chief Medical Examiner for Orleans Parish, rubbed the back of his stiff neck. Cots must have been invented by the Marquis de Sade. There couldn't be any other explanation for the existence of such a wretched object. Fortified with a surprisingly decent cup of coffee and two hastily-consumed sausage biscuits, he stepped out of the abandoned schoolhouse where most of the area's FEMA workers slept in former classrooms. Without pause, he set his stubby, tired legs moving, heading as fast as he could toward the makeshift mortuary next door. In most of the state, people who still had beds were in them. But here, though the sun had not yet made an appearance, the morning shift in the morgue was already well underway.
And Broussard was late.
Never mind that he'd worked most of the night shift. This was the day he could turn to the task that had been picking at his sense of order for weeks, so he was upset at having overslept.
Broussard had lived with death daily for over forty years. It was as much a part of him as his bow ties and the lanyard that tethered his glasses to his neck when he looked through a microscope. It enveloped him as completely as each of his six 1957 T-Birds cradled his massive body. He could feel its touch as surely as the steering wheels of those cars, which rubbed against the buttons on his shirt when he turned a corner. It was in his gray hair and beard and the leather of the shoes with perforated uppers he wore to keep his feet from sweating.
He did not fear death. He simply viewed it as a respected adversary that came in many guises, a cunning opponent with endless tricks to mislead those who would document and understand its handiwork, an antagonist capable of challenging his intellect at the highest level, especially when one human arranged for it to take another.
But this easy familiarity with the dark eternal did not lessen the burden he had carried for weeks as the body count from Hurricane Katrina mounted. The corpses had been flowing at a shocking rate into the row of refrigerated trucks he could already see through the chain-link fence surrounding his brightly lit destination. Over eight hundred souls lost at last count ... mostly from failure of the levees. It was still incomprehensible to him that such a catastrophe could have happened. His beloved New Orleans ... much of it destroyed ... it was almost too much for the old pathologist to take. But he owed it to the dead to make sure every one of them was identified, and none had been murdered under cover of the storm. That, he would not tolerate.
But Lord, it was hard to keep going. Once body recovery began, he'd worked practically around the clock, quickly pushing himself beyond exhaustion, often remaining in the morgue well into the hot afternoons, when everyone but he and one or two loyal assistants fled to more temperate surroundings in the school to wait out the sun. St. Gabriel, where the mortuary had been set up, was just south of Baton Rouge, sixty miles from New Orleans. Even if I-10 hadn't been clotted daily in both directions with refugees from Orleans Parish clinging to shreds of their former lives, it was too long a commute for Broussard to go home each time he needed a few hours sleep. So he hadn't seen his own bed more than a few times since the horror started. That's why he was already breathing hard even though he hadn't covered much ground.
Suddenly he felt light headed.
He stopped walking to see how bad this episode was going to be. He'd had the first one a week after the mortuary started receiving bodies. An isolated event, he'd thought. But they had continued, so far, not progressing to anything worse, but occurring more frequently. He bent over and looked at the ground, muttering for this nuisance to go away. Instead, it rose in intensity until he thought he might pass out. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, it moved on, leaving him even more fully drained.
He resumed walking, heading along a well-illuminated foot path through the weeds that led to a gate in the chain-link fence five yards ahead. Three paces later, he felt something give way under his left shoe. Looking down, he saw his foot resting in the midst of a cluster of mud marbles, some of which were surely now sludgy little pancakes on the bottom of his shoe. He was an expert at wandering through fields and woods, often in much worse lighting than there was here, and had never before in his entire life stepped in a pile of armadillo scat. He should have realized that event, though small, was telling him something. But he was too tired to get it.
Reaching the fence, he held onto it and wiped his soiled shoe across some clumps of grass. He went through the gate and angled left, up the paved driveway toward the metal warehouse converted to a morgue.
Ahead, showers of sparks shot into the air as a dozen construction workers continued assembling a refrigeration facility to replace the semi trucks now being used for that purpose. To see the living expend so much energy for the dead was both heartwarming and depressing.
He entered the warehouse through the side door. At the security desk, he was greeted by Eddie Shavers, St Gabriel's sheriff for over twenty years, now retired and volunteering his services. Shavers turned the clipboard with the sign-in sheet toward Broussard. Over the sound of the massive FEMA-installed air conditioner in the back of the building, he said, "Things are lookin' better, yeah? I heard we only got four in yesterday."
Raising his own voice to compete with the air conditioner, Broussard said, "Wish we were back in the days when the discovery of four bodies was cause for alarm, not encouragement." He scribbled his name and the time on the sheet.
Shavers's brow furrowed with concern at how Broussard had taken his comment. "I just meant ..."
Broussard put a reassuring hand on the old sheriff's shoulder. "I'm just frustrated I can't make this whole problem go away. Sometimes I let it show."
Shavers nodded. "... Know exactly what you mean."
Save for the afternoon hours when it was too hot to work, there were always around 75 people in the building, all toiling to identify the dead. Despite what Broussard had said to Shavers, the waning number of admissions was a hopeful sign that someday the gruesome flow would stop. FEMA had set up the morgue and coordinated deployment of all the volunteers working there. But they had put Broussard in charge. And he had decided it was now time to cut back to one shift and let many of those volunteers return to their normal lives. This easing of the workload was also why he could finally tackle that job he'd long wanted to begin.
With plastic pipe and blue tarps, the old warehouse had been partitioned off into areas for clerical, body reception, whole-body x-ray, dental x-ray, and DNA collection. There were also a couple of autopsy rooms as well as one for changing clothes. There were no ceilings on any of these rooms, so the odor of decomposition was free to go where it would. And it went everywhere.
Thankful that his smell neurons would soon fatigue and make the odor unnoticeable, Broussard stepped into the dressing room, where he ran into Charlie Franks, Deputy Medical examiner for Orleans Parish, already suiting up. Franks was late, too, but he had an aging mother and her sister to care for back in New Orleans, and sometimes that obligation made it impossible for him to get back to St. Gabriel precisely when he wanted. Broussard understood this and no conversation about it was necessary.
Franks looked at Broussard and said something.
Hearing only half the words because of the air conditioner, Broussard leaned forward and said, "I didn't get that."
"We have to stop meeting like this," Franks repeated more forcefully as he slipped a disposable cover over his left shoe.
"Nothin' would please me more," Broussard replied. "How are you this mornin'?"
"Better than yesterday. The power came back on at my house last night."
"That had to be a thrill."
"After three weeks ... thrill doesn't cover it. Even with candles on the table, MREs ain't romantic."
"So you're sayin' now that you got electricity, you and the missus will be steamin' up the bedroom windows?"
"Oh yeah ... that's gonna happen." A look of concern crept over Franks's face. "Did you work the night shift?"
"Not all of it."
"Damn it, Andy, you've got to slow down. You can't keep going at this pace."
"Now that things are taperin' off, I won't have to."
"Meaning you'll go home tonight?"
"That's my plan."
"Hope you'll stick to it."
Franks pulled on his other shoe cover, snatched a couple of masks from a box on nearby metal shelves, and shoved them into the pocket of his disposable jump suit. He put some rubber gloves in his other pocket and grabbed a full-face shield from the shelves. "See you in the trenches."
It took Broussard about ten minutes to change. From the dressing room, he followed the makeshift corridors between blue tarps to clerical, where, sitting behind a black metal desk bearing a big screen laptop, he found Fran Durbin, their chief data-entry volunteer from Omaha, wearing out her keyboard.
Durbin had a long face and a large nose that made her a homely woman. Accustomed to noticing only a person's best features, Broussard thought once again what nice skin she had.
She looked up from her work, fatigue evident in her eyes. "And the fun goes on ..."
"Is it gettin' to be more than you can handle? We're to the point now where I'm plannin' to cut some folks loose. If you like, you can be one of 'em. Your call."
She shook her head. "I'm a lousy cook. And since the Forestry Service has started preparing our meals over there at the school, I'm eating better here than I would at home. So, think I'll stick around awhile."
Broussard cupped his big stomach, which for all his travails, was still a ponderous thing. "As you can see, food is not somethin' I care much about."
Despite their grim duties, Durban smiled. "What can I do for you this morning?"
Of the countless bodies he had processed since the storm, three had remained foremost in Broussard's mind ... all collected from the same tangle of brush and trees in the lower Ninth Ward, all female, all naked. Today, his curiosity about them could finally be exercised. Hating that he had to refer to them by number, he said, "I want to take another look at 427 ... then the next two in sequence. Has the data we sent over to the missin' persons center turned up anything on 'em?"
For each collected body, the FEMA mortuary had provided the center with fingerprints and dental x-rays. At this stage of things, those items were of little value since family members reporting lost relatives weren't likely to have records of either. A few of those who'd become separated from family members had been able to produce pictures of the missing. But because all the bodies coming in were already disfigured by decomposition, they would no longer resemble those photos. Far more useful were descriptions of tattoos, clothing, hair color, jewelry, and any old fractures repaired with metal pins.
The three bodies in Broussard's sights this morning had been wearing no jewelry, had no tattoos, and no repaired fractures. But the peculiar fact they were all nude seemed potentially as useful in identifying them as any item of clothing they might have been wearing. Even so, Broussard's highest hopes lay with the silicone chin implant found on the whole-body x-rays of 427. That seemed like something most family members would know about and mention when filing a report.
Durbin turned to the bank of three rolling file cabinets beside the desk and pulled the middle one closer. She thumbed through the hanging files inside and selected the pertinent records, which were all still identified on the tab only by a number. "Sorry, no luck."
Durban handed the files to Broussard. "I'll have the first one there in just a few minutes."
For all the noise the air conditioner made, it didn't adequately cool the building. That's why it was so hot in there during the afternoons. Today, even though it was still early morning, the place was barely tolerable, so as Broussard walked down to autopsy area 1, he wasn't looking forward to putting on his mask and face shield.
As each body moved through the facility, it was accompanied by an escort that served as a scribe and an extra pair of hands when needed. The body bag containing corpse 427 arrived promptly on a gurney pushed by Jeff Lyons, a husky young fire department paramedic and navy reserve pilot from Jesuit Bend who Broussard had worked with many times over the past few weeks. Broussard recognized him even though Lyons was gowned and already masked.
The two men exchanged a brief greeting, then as Broussard donned his face protection, Lyons said, "You dream about any of this?"
Broussard stepped in to help position the gurney so they could move the body onto the examination table sitting under a bank of fluorescent lights. Practically shouting now to be heard through his facial gear and over the air conditioner, Broussard said, "If you mean this kind of work in general, not usually, but I've had a few since the storm." He unzipped the bag, unleashing a powerful smell that surged over the two men in an almost tangible cloud, once again kick-starting their smell receptors and making Lyons's eyes water.
Broussard moved around to the head, and they pushed the bag down so they could reach the monstrously swollen body inside. Broussard leaned over and took hold of the cadaver's shoulders, his hands sinking deeply into the macerated muscle beneath the skin. Lyons grasped the corpse's ankles.
"On the count of three," Broussard said. "One, two, three ..."
As they lifted their loathsome burden, a filthy blond ponytail, clotted with mud and leaves and twigs, unfurled from the skull.
With the transfer complete, Lyons said, "I was this one's escort when she first came in. That ponytail is one of the things I been dreaming about ... only in my dream it's soft and clean. But her face ... is still ... like that. And ... I'm in bed with her."
Broussard looked at the cadaver's ruined features: the sunken eyes, the opaque corneas, the swollen skin a disgusting palette of red, purple, and black all swirled together with green and yellow, blending like some grotesque artwork. Forgetting Lyons was even there, he moved around the table, bent down, and sighted along the plane of the cadaver's facial skin.
The feature he'd noticed when he'd initially seen the body weeks earlier was still there; a series of small elevations of the skin around the nose and mouth that were superimposed on the general facial swelling. Under these elevations, he thought there was a corresponding constancy of coloration as though she might have been injured in those areas before she died.
When he'd first observed this many days ago, it hadn't set off any mental alarm. She could have gone into the water, been hit by some floating debris as she struggled, then drowned a short while later. It was when he saw the same thing on bodies 428 and 429, both collected close to this one, both nude as this one had been when found, that his skullduggery sonar, already warming up, had begun beeping.
Back then, he couldn't do anything about it. The morgue's prime directive in those early days was body identification. There had been little time for cause-of-death analyses. Considering how fast the bodies were arriving, he was lucky to have picked up on this suspicious discoloration. It's likely that had he been able to follow up then on these cases, while he was still alert enough to avoid stepping in armadillo feces, he might have noticed one other unusual feature of the victim's destroyed face. As it was, it slipped right by him then, and did so again this time.
Realizing Broussard wasn't going to respond to his comment about his dreams, Lyons pushed the gurney out of the way and changed gloves so he wouldn't soil the records as he handled them.
Excerpted from Bad Karma in the Big Easy by D. J. Donaldson. Copyright © 2014 D.J. DONALDSON. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions, LLC.
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.
What People are Saying About This
“D.J. Donaldson is superb at spinning medical fact into gripping suspense. With his in-depth knowledge of science and medicine, he is one of very few authors who can write with convincing authority.”
—Tess Gerritsen, NY Times best-selling author of the Rizzoli & Isles novels
"With each book, Donaldson peels away a few more layers of these characters and we find ourselves loving the involvement." —THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL (MEMPHIS)
“Andy and Kit are a match made in mystery heaven.”
—THE CLARION LEDGER (JACKSON, MS)
“Donaldson has established himself as a master of the Gothic mystery.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Andy Broussard is slowing going through all the bodies that have been gathered after Katrina struck. As he going through them, he finds something irregular. Three women, that recently gave birth, found naked. Something bothers him from the start and when he discovers that they had been frozen he knows that he is going to have to try and find a killer. At the same time, Kit is helping on a strange suicide that looks like there was more to it. When she starts looking into it, she learns that the victim was a twin that works at a specialized office that creates lab quality livers for children. But when the killer decides to try and take Kit out of the picture, she doesn’t know if she can keep going on. Then Andy realizes that he missed a vital piece of information and starts questioning his abilities. It looks like this may be the last case for both of them. This is another great story by Don Donaldson. Amidst the horrors of Katrina and everyone own person regrets from the storms aftermath, Andy and Kit are trying to come to terms with some deaths that happened. I felt for both Andy and Kit and what they went through, I don’t wish that one anyone. And the twist ending, I admit that I kind of had an idea on how it was related but it turned out better than what I had thought, creepy but really good. This is a great book in a wonderful series. Mystery/thriller readers, you HAVE to read this book. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.
It’s like Bones, or Law & Order: SVU, or all the other cool crimes shows, just without Bones and Booth and Olivia and Elliot, instead there’s the “plump and proud” Broussard, and psychologist sidekick Kit. Bad Karma in the Big Easy could easily have its own TV show. First off, I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t read any of the other books in this series. I was contacted to review this book, and I didn’t do my research. *sigh* BUT, you don’t have to read the other books to know what’s going on. It’s like I said earlier, this book could be its own TV show, and generally, you don’t have to watch the previous episode of a show to know what’s going on in the current episode. So that’s a big thumbs up! At first, I was skeptical going into this. Would I like it? It’s not to my typical tastes. (I’m a YA fantasy reader, in case you didn’t know.) However, once I got about a tenth of the way through the book I was finding myself enjoying the storyline. I learned quite a bit of random medical and various other jargon and factoids. I also laughed out loud intermittently throughout the book. The characters were great! Broussard had his own unique personality that I could picture quite easily, and Kit Franklyn was an interesting contrast to Broussard. The only thing I wish I could have seen, and felt, more of, was the dynamic between the two. This could also be said of the other few characters that were introduced. Maybe I wasn’t seeing it as much because I hadn’t read the other books? Also, I wasn’t really sure what Kit actually contributed through her profession, to the story. Don’t get me wrong, I liked her character and the plot developments, I just didn’t get a lot of psychiatrist vibes from her points of view. The book’s plot had me guessing, and making a fool of myself, the entire time I was reading. Murder mysteries always have you thinking you know what the heck’s going to happen, and I had my theories, but what actually happened in the book had my theories looking pretty stupid. It’s definitely a shocking revelation when everything finally comes together in the end. All in all, I went in to Bad Karma in the Big Easy not expecting much, but I actually managed to enjoy it. I would definitely recommend this book/series to anyone who thinks they might be interested in starting the Murder/Mystery genre, as well as anyone who’s already into it. 4/5 stars *Note: I received a copy of this book to review from the publisher. This in no way altered my opinion/review.
Every thing the previous reviewers said is accurate. Whether this story was worth publishing is another matter. The book is definately adult material. Hopefully some ethics board somewhere is watching. My life is not better having read this book. One star the system does not have a zero. JR