Louisiana Hotshot (Talba Wallis Series #1)

Louisiana Hotshot (Talba Wallis Series #1)

by Julie Smith
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Louisiana Hotshot (Talba Wallis Series #1) by Julie Smith

Edgar Award-winner Julie Smith returns to the bewitching streets of New Orleans with the smartest, sassiest, hippest detective ever-the Baroness Pontalba.

Meet the snazziest P.I. in the land. Not by accident does she roam America's jazziest city, New Orleans. By day she is Talba Wallis: smart, sassy, ebony, and a fledgling detective. By night she is the Baroness Pontalba: poet laureate of the city's smoky rooms, matron saint of her town's exotic and multi-colorful café society.

Goaded into a day gig by her pushy mom, she finds herself employed by Eddie Valentino, and Talba is plunged into a world of fame, money, and power run amok, hunting a man who seduces teenage black girls and may be making them disappear. At the same time she is haunted by disturbing near-memories. Her forgotten past only emerges when violence enters her life-but not, she learns, for the first time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765342928
Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Publication date: 08/28/2002
Series: Talba Wallis Series , #1
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 1.11(w) x 1.11(h) x 1.11(d)

About the Author

Julie Smith currently lives and writes in the Faubourg Marigny district of New Orleans, a neighborhood of nightclubs, restaurants and coffee shops where shady characters mix with artists. The author of nineteen novels, she was born and raised in Savannah before escaping to the University of Mississippi. After graduation, Smith became a reporter, first for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and later the San Francisco Chronicle. She lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years before returning to New Orleans.

Smith abandoned reporting for writing mysteries in the early 1980s, writing a series featuring attorney Rebecca Schwartz and a second series starring Paul McDonald, a reporter turned mystery writer whose fate you wouldn't wish on a dog. A few years later, she launched a third series featuring New Orleans police detective Skip Langdon with New Orleans Mourning, which won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel in 1991. She currently alternates between writing about Skip Langdon and Talba Wallis, an African-American poet/private eye who debuted in "Louisiana Hotshot."

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Nerd wanted. Nerdette wouldn't be too bad. Young hotshot, under thirty, 5 yrs. computer, 10 yrs. investigative exp. Harvard ed., no visible piercings. Must play the computer like Horowitz played piano. Slave wages.

Huh. This one see you comin'—he as picky as you."

"Let me see that" Unbelieving, Talba Wallis grabbed for the classifieds. She was having breakfast with her mother at the old black-painted table, trying to ignore Miz Clara's morning meddling.

Talba had nothing against getting a job, indeed fully intended to. She merely preferred to peruse the Times-Picayune ads at her own pace, if at all. The best jobs in her field would be on the Internet, so why bother?

However, she had to admit her mother had happened on a rare gem—an honest ad. The kind you usually saw only in the personals: "Fat toad, sixty-five, stinks, seeks hard-bodied blue-eyed blonde for hideous perversions. Must be 18 and star of own TV series."

"Must be some kind of joke," Miz Clara said. "Nobody under thirty with all that experience."

Hardly hearing, Talba took the paper and wandered toward her room. Who the hell would place an ad like that? It was easy enough to find out, and she couldn't resist—it was a slow Sunday morning. Darryl had his kid for the weekend.

Actually, she met quite a few of the criteria. She was under thirty, had no visible piercings, did have investigative experience, and was, in fact, the Horowitz of the computer. She'd probably be employed if she weren't so damn good, hi fact, she certainly would be—she'd just quit a cushy gig at United Oil out of pure boredom. Elsewhere, there were plenty of jobs for an African-American nerd of her distinction, but Talba was a New Orleanian through and through. Her mama was here, and her boyfriend was here but that was only part of it.

Her heart was here.

The last line of the ad said "Fax résumé," and gave a number. That was all she needed. A few strokes of the keyboard and she had a name: Edward Valentino.

A few more and she had another: E. V. Anthony Investigations. A detective agency on Carondelet. No web site.

"Well, well, well, well, well. What can we deduce from this?" she mumbled to herself, thoroughly delighted. Her mentor, Gene Allred, had told her he got a good percentage of his work from being first in the phonebook—therefore, given the "E.V.," there probably was no Anthony. Carondelet Street was in the CBD, or Central Business District-therefore maybe Valentino was a pretty respectable guy (which was more than she could say for Allred.)

She grabbed for the Yellow Pages. Aha, an ad. Twenty-five years' experience. Specializing in criminal defense, undercover, divorce, child custody, missing persons, insurance, prenuptial. In other words, not specializing.

Interesting, though—the ad didn't mention too much about background checks. Corporate and prenuptial might cover that, but something told Talba Mr. Valentino didn't care much for doing heavy computer searches.

Well, hell. That was a nerd's job. She got back on the net and sometime after lunch had a stack of papers half an inch thick. An excellent day's work. She decided to give her mother a treat.

"Come on, Mama. Let's take a ride." Miz Clara was dozing in front of the television set.

"Where ya want to go?"

"Let's go see Aunt Carrie. I've got this nice car- -we might as well use it." She had bought a five-year-old Camry out of her United Oil earnings.

Miz Clara said, "Hmmph. Not nice enough."

"Oh, yeah, I think so. In this neighborhood, I think it's quite nice enough." Her mama lived in a run-down cottage in the Ninth Ward, on a block poetically situated between Desire and Piety. A better car would just be a better target.

Miz Clara went off to trade her floppy old blue slippers for a pair of Nikes, and find herself a wig to wear. When she came back, she said, "What you been doin' in there by ya self?"

"Writing poetry," said Talba, and Miz Clara shut up.

• • •

It was eight-forty-five the next morning when Talba tried the door marked E. V. Anthony. It was locked. Good. That probably meant they came in at nine.

She found a ladies' room in which to replenish her lipstick, and returned to stand guard. At approximately nine-oh-five, a young white woman unlocked the door. "Are you waiting for someone?"

"Edward Valentino."

"Come on in. Do you have an appointment?"

"No. Just taking a chance."

"Can I help you with anything?"

"Oh, no thanks, I'll just read a magazine." It was obvious the woman was dying of curiosity, but Talba figured once was enough to tell her story.

It was another few minutes—twenty maybe—before a stocky man came in, a man who'd be sixty-five in a matter of days, stood five-feet-ten, and limped a little. Not even giving him a chance to greet die help, she rose and extended her hand. "Mr. Valentino, I presume."

"Good morning. Good morning," he said, clearly a little flustered.

"I didn't know about the limp."

"Say that again?" Now he was irritated.

Talba noticed that he said "dat" for "that." He had the kind of New Orleans accent that sounded, for all the world, as if he'd grown up in Brooklyn. She held up her file. "Everything else was on the Internet. But I missed the limp." She nodded at the secretary. "You're Eileen Fisher, aren't you?" She turned back to Valentino. "And you're about to have a birthday. Congratulations."

Smoke was starting to come out of Valentino's ears. "What the hell is this?" What da hell is dis?

"This," she said, "is a young hotshot, able to play the computer like Horowitz tickled the ivories. No visible piercings and well under thirty. Talba Wallis at your service."

Valentino looked exhausted, but he stuck out his hand manfully. "Eddie Valentino. You gotta be a friend of Angela's."

"Angela? I must be missing something."

"Come on, come on. Angela put ya up to this."

"Angela. Your wife's name is Audrey, it can't be…oh! Daughter. She must be your daughter."

He was laughing now. "Angle, Angie—don't you ever give up?"

"Mr. Valentino, I'm as much of a hotshot as you're gonna get, but your daughter's name wasn't in any of the databases. Now if I'd known I was going to need it, I could have had it in two seconds."

A look of astonishment spread over his features. Talba figured he was starting to catch on. "How'd you know who placed the ad?"

Talba shrugged. "You advertised for an investigator. I investigated."

Valentino closed his eyes and shook his head slowly, a man clearly at the end of his rope. "Eileen, you got any coffee?"

"Yes sir. Of course." The girl looked terrified.

"Bring us some, will ya? Ms. Wallis, come on in." He led the way to one of three other rooms she could see, another of which seemed to be a combination coffee and copy room. Valentino's office wasn't a whole lot grander. He turned on a light and slipped behind a desk, gesturing at two facing chairs. Talba took one, and for the first time really looked at him.

His hair was salt-and-pepper, not yet white, and not soon to be, but his face was deeply lined. Almost as if it had been carved out of a once-handsome, very Mediterranean demeanor that had become, for some reason, very tired. Deeply, deeply tired. The bags under his eyes were duffels. She almost asked if he were getting enough sleep.

"Start at the beginning, Ms. Wallis."

She passed him most of the file, holding back her ace in the hole. "Here's the background check I did on you, complete with driving record and newspaper clips. I see you worked on the Houlihan case."

He nodded impatiently. "Yeah, yeah. Okay, you're a hotshot. Ya went to Harvard?" Eileen brought in a couple of mugs of coffee, and he had his to his face almost before he'd finished speaking.

"Xavier. Computer skills mostly self-taught, except for five years at TeleSyst. Five years off and on, I mean—some of it was summer stuff while I was in school. But I bow to the applicant who did go to Harvard and brings you a package like this."

"Pretty pushy broad, aren't ya?" His eyes crinkled a little. He was starting to loosen up. Talba knew guys like this—the way they showed they liked you was to get insulting.

Best to let it go, she thought. Stow the righteous indignation. She gave him a grin instead. "I try to be." He had drunk about half his coffee by now, and it was doing him a world of good. His skin was looking less gray, his eyes starting to show some spirit, the purple of the duffels smoothing to puce.

What's in that stuff? she thought, and took a sip herself. If she hadn't already been sitting, it would have knocked her on her butt.

"How much investigative experience ya had?"

"About two months." She paused. "Not counting the ten minutes I spent on this." Gesturing grandly at the pile she'd given him.

He didn't crack a smile, and she made a mental note to lay off the bragging. It wasn't going over. "I'm just kidding. It really took me about an hour and a half."

"You tellin' me the truth?" Da trut'.

She made an attempt to look modest, but it was something she hadn't tried before; she wasn't sure she succeeded. "Yes sir. Give or take."

"Tell me about your experience."

"Well, it was a funny thing. I had a problem I needed a private eye for. So I picked one out of the phonebook, and the guy hired me."

"Oh, yeah? Who was that?"

"Gene Allred."

He leaned forward a little, and his eyes threw off sparks like a couple of mini-fires. The guy had something she hadn't seen at first, "Gene Allred? I knew Gene Allred. Crooked son of a bitch."

Talba laughed, "Guess you right." She hardly ever lapsed into dialect, but this guy was such an old-time New Orleanian, it was catching. "A little sleazy, but he sure could detect."

"What was so special about ya he just had to hire ya?"

"He said I had the right demographics."

Valentino raised an eyebrow.

"Meaning I could go undercover in places he couldn't. That and my computer skills. Gene was kind of a Luddite."

"A what?"

"Luddite. You're one too, aren't you?"

"I'll let ya know when ya clue me in what ya talkin' about."

"A Luddite is somebody who'd rather give the government thirty-four cents than send e-mail."

"I got no time for that crap."

"I rest my case. But an awful lot of detective work is done on computers these days. Which must be why you advertised."

"It ain't the business it was." Valentino's shoulders sagged forward as if he'd just suffered a defeat. Talba hated seeing him that way; found it made her truly sad, and noticed for the first time the sadness in the detective's eyes. The sadness, and the intelligence; and the kindness.

Oh shit, she thought, realizing she had started to care about him. She recognized instantly that it wasn't a sexual thing—never could be, never would be. She had a great boyfriend, a dynamite boyfriend, and this dude was white, married, old enough to be her father, and so depressed he probably couldn't get it up. Definitely not sexual, but definitely something, and something she thought she recognized. Something not too healthy.

Valentino's eyes—the sad, intelligent, oh-so-kind eyes, the terribly caring, deeply understanding, tender-as-the-night eyes, were the sort of eyes sometimes referred to as soulful; the sort that, in a young, attractive man were almost guaranteed to get a young woman in trouble.

She had seen those eyes before, seen them on many an attractive, hurt, tough, scary young face; and she had followed them where they had led and had gotten in the kind of trouble they invariably got you in. She was such a sucker for that kind of thing her mother and brother had sunk to trying an intervention to get her to dump her last boyfriend, the one before Darryl, the one she now recognized was the second biggest asshole in the city of New Orleans (she being the biggest for not seeing it sooner).

She knew perfectly well why these eyes were so attractive. They were irresistible because they were the only soft thing in a hard face; a worldly, leather-tough face that had seen it all and dealt with it, a face you wouldn't want to mess with. They were a cry for help from a soul that desired no help, wanted no help, chose no help, couldn't in any way be helped.

They were not eyes that cried, they were themselves the tears; they were the fatal tip-off that that mutilated and now aggressively armored soul needed to be kissed and made well. That the imaginary tears must be wiped away: crying, desperate eyes replaced by the carefree, corner-crinkled eyes of a man who has just been made to laugh by his beloved; or the devoted, follow-you-to-the-grave eyes of a man who has just made love to her. Or to anyone. Or to a plank with a mink-lined hole in it.

Oh, yes. Talba was not only under thirty, but well under twenty-five, and already she knew everything about eyes like that—everything except what they meant when they were underscored by velvet-soft pouches so big they needed a bra; so bloodstained, so seemingly bruised you wanted to order emergency ice. What they meant when they sometimes sparked like small fires and peered from the head of an old white man who said "dese" and "dose."

When Eddie Valentino spoke again, interrupting her silent ocular love song, she nearly did a double take. "I'll think about it, Ms. Wallis."

"You'll think about it? Here I stay up half the night to show you what I can do, and then I get here before sunrise, and you'll think about it?"

And for the first time in the interview, sad, soulful Eddie Valentino really did smile—a broad, amused, gotcha smile. "I thought it only took you ten minutes. Hour and a half at the most."

"I'm making a point, Mr. Valentino. I tend to exagggerate when I'm making a point. And the point is, I'm your hotshot. Who else was here before your door opened with a complete dossier on you? I mean, what's the definition of a hotshot?"

He smiled again, "You're a ball of fire, all right. I just gotta sleep on it, that's all."

"Oh. Well." Twice Talba had made him smile. Maybe that's what her mission was; maybe that was all she was meant to do. Of course he had to sleep on it. What was she thinking?

I'm believing my own P.R., she thought, and felt embarrassed. What did I think he was going to do? Welcome me like a long-lost daughter?

Copyright © 2001 by Julie Smith

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Louisiana Hotshot (Talba Wallis Series #1) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book and glad to find out Julie Smith has a series I hadn't read. I am looking forward to following Talba Wallis on all of her adventures.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sandra Wallis, aka Talba Wallis and the Baronness Pontalba, is a character you will either love or hate. Those who have read 82 Desire by Julie Smith will recognize her. Frankly, I thought that Talba was one of the most interesting and original characters I have ever read about in detective fiction. Those who like their female detectives intelligent, aggressive, and resourceful will find Talba to be a wonderful addition. The book's story develops from a single incident. An underage girl has had sex with a prominent man. The girl tells her mother about it, and Eddie Valentino is brought in to find the man. Eddie has just hired Talba to help him out with the computer side of detecting. Due to a series of accidents, Talba is left on her own . . . and she runs with it. Then, just when you think you've got the story figured out, Talba starts having unusual emotional reactions at a funeral. This starts another mystery, which proves to be far more interesting and rewarding than finding the sexual predator. My main complaint about this book is that Talba is brought along much too fast as a detective. Her feats of detection and derring-do would be typical of someone who has been doing this for 20 years, rather than having done it twice briefly. I graded the book down for this overstatement. It unnecessarily strained the credibility of what otherwise was a rich and rewarding story line. I liked the way that Skip Langdon was brought in for cameo roles. It made the book's context wider and firmer. The humor often comes close to being over the top, but keeps pulling itself down towards the right direction. I laughed aloud at several points. My wife asked me what I was smiling about twice while I was reading very funny sections. The book opens with this classified advertisement: 'Nerd wanted. Nerdette wouldn't be too bad. Young hotshot, under thirty, 5 yrs. computer, 10 yrs. investigative exp. Harvard ed., no visible piercings. Must play the computer like Horowitz played piano. Slave wages.' Now, how can you fail to have fun with a book like this? After you finish enjoying Louisiana Hotshot, think about where your 'public face' is a way of protecting your inner vulnerability. Does that public face get in the way of what you really want sometimes? If so, how can you develop the flexibility to have others see you in ways that better serve your needs? Be open to love, connection, and caring . . . by keeping your face, words, and arms open! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution
jayfwms More than 1 year ago
I have fallen in love with Julie Smith books! She describes a New Orleans I recognize and can relate to. She also comes up with the most imaginative and unique characters I have encountered. This was my introduction to Baroness de Pontalba, AKA Talba Wallis. The narrative is part detective procedural and part the cracking of a mystery. Both plot lines proceed in parallel, with off-beat humor and unusual characters popping up. The book is less a polished piece of prose, but more a glimpse at real people having an adventure where not everything goes right. The main characters are rich in depth and thoroughly likeable. Several subplots provide views of the basic humanity in the players. This is not a deep book, or a bounteous travelogue. It is just a pleasing and enthralling story about the kind of people that you may not encounter in everyday life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When Talba Wallis saw P.I. Eddie Valentine's ad for a 'nerd or nerdette', she knew she'd found the day job she was looking for. After all, writing poetry as the Baroness Pontalba didn't exactly put food on the table, and few could manipulate a computer or surf the 'Net better than she. Both she and Eddie got more than they bargained for, as their meeting and their first joint case, looking for the creep who sexually molested a 14 year old girl, forced each of them to come to terms with some personal ghosts. But they found that a 50-something Italian ex-cop and a 20-something black poet can make an effective team against some powerful people willing to go to extremes to keep their secrets. I was given a copy, and if I hadn't picked it up I would have missed out on a very enjoyable read. I may have to listen to what people have been telling me and try some of Smith's other work. The characters in this book come vividly to life, and though, for the most part, they're unlike any people I've ever met, I had no difficulty believing in them. And Smith does a very good job of evoking the New Orleans setting. There's a lot of emotion in this book, as Eddie and Talba both undergo some major personal upheavals, but Smith keeps it from getting out of control. She also manages to keep the pace steady and the suspense building even while large portions of the book deal with the personal lives of Eddie and Talba rather than the investigation. The investigation is never entirely forgotten, though this isn't really a whodunit, it's more of a 'how do we stop them'. Overall, this is a very good book. My only complaint is with the final confrontation scene, which struck me as somewhat predictable and stereotypical, but that's a standard complaint of mine about that particular form of resolution, and it only detracts slightly from my overall enjoyment of the book. I can't help wondering, however, where Smith will go with this series - she surely can't put her characters through much more of the kind of emotional wringer they endured in this installment. I guess I'll just have to wait for the next one to find out.
harstan More than 1 year ago
She never intended to become a private detective, but when Talba Wallis saw the classified ad in the Times-Picayune, she applies for the job. Eddie Valentino of E.V. Anthony Investigations Service is impressed with the dossier Talba compiled on him and her brassy disrespect for her elders. She, in turn, feels her potential new boss is a sexist likable soul.

Eddie hires Talba sending her immediately into an investigation. An irate mother claims that her fourteen-year old daughter had sex with someone named Toes, an adult male. As Eddie and Talba make inquiries they quickly learn that Toes has influence in New Orleans as the police try to stalemate any progress the new sleuth makes. When other teenage girls vanish, Talba realizes something drastic must be done before others get hurt.

This is a different type of series than Julie Smith's Skip Langdon novels, but is as much fun. The eccentric and realistic characters bring out the hidden New Orleans while the relationship between Eddie and Talba is quite entertaining and amusing as they are two sides of the same cover. LOUISANA HOTSHOT is a smooth thriller that will brighten the reader's day.

Harriet Klausner