Blackwell’s (The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish) newest novel immerses readers immediately in sticky, noirish post-Katrina New Orleans. Four unlikely people are drawn together by the seemingly unrelated murder of a tourist. Eli, a rehabilitated art thief who now works in art recovery; Marion, a bartender, artist, massage therapist, and professional submissive (in the BDSM sense); Johanna, an art restorer; and Clay, the scion of a wealthy old New Orleans family—are all brought together through Eli’s search for a painting that may have been taken from the hotel room of a murdered European tourist. As Eli investigates, he realizes there are deep connections among all of them, and that the painting has been taken to help avenge an injustice. Eli must try to unravel the connections and keep Johanna, in particular, safe, as the painting is irrevocably tied up with the secrets of her past—secrets that connect her and Clay to theft, murder, and international trafficking. The sense of place is strong here. The authenticity of Blackwell’s New Orleans experience is clear on every page, from the bars the characters frequent to the sense of a city rebuilding itself and gentrifying. Similarly, the sense of the suffocating smallness of the international community of art collectors is tangible. These factors will grip readers and keep them turning pages. Though the conclusion is rushed and a little peculiar, readers will forgive it because of Blackwell’s consistently stellar writing. (Sept.)
"The deft unfolding of the underlying mystery is rich with characterization and atmosphere and can be appreciated by a wide range of readers." - Library Journal
“The novel's greatest strength is how it imbues both the loftiest and the seediest moments with grandeur and pathos without being overwrought or overwritten. An artful, gritty love story, eulogy, and survivor narrative for the city of New Orleans post-Katrina.” - Starred Kirkus Review
“A deft and vivid portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans, The Lower Quarter flirts along the edges of noir, gets its feet wet, and then returns to offer us the satisfactions of vivid characters complexly and convincingly drawn. This book is about what happens if you pay attention to the real story instead of just reading the tabloid headlines.” Brian Evenson
“In Elise Blackwell's new novel The Lower Quarter, place comes alive as it all too rarely seems to in fiction or for that matter any other genre. Every time I put the book down for a few minutes, I had to look around and get my bearings, because I'd been in another world. The characters here are every bit as real as their environment, and I became absorbed in their lives. My admiration for this beguiling book and its talented author is unqualified.” Steve Yarbrough
“The Lower Quarter is a beautifully written book. Elise Blackwell’s work has always been intelligent, nuanced, and finely wrought, but The Lower Quarter is her best novel yet: a mesmerizing story of art, resilience, and life after catastrophe.” Emily St. John Mandel
“The Lower Quarter is noir at its noirest best: dark, fast-paced, sexily exciting, and beautifully written. Pick it up and I dare you to try putting it down.” Benjamin Black (John Banville)
“A bedazzling southern noir set in post-Katrina New Orleans, The Lower Quarter catches us up in the tangled paths of four individuals, each haunted by a brutal past. While expertly unraveling her characters’ intertwining stories, Elise Blackwell in her highly atmospheric new novel powerfully conveys the endlessly destructive legacy of violence and the redemptive beauty of art.” Jenny McPhee
Once a victim of sex trafficking, Johanna found her calling as an art conservator while staring at a dirty painting after being forced to the floor by a client. Now, having been rescued by Clay, scion of an old-money family and self-styled avenger of wrongdoing, she restores art for private clients in New Orleans. Eli, an accomplished artist and Puerto Rican nationalist jailed for "repatriating" works of art, is employed by the Lost Art Register. He ends up in New Orleans on assignment to find a missing painting linked to a murder victim police nearly missed as Katrina swept into town. VERDICT The deft unfolding of the underlying mystery is rich with characterization and atmosphere and can be appreciated by a wide range of readers. From the author of The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.
A man arrives in post-Katrina New Orleans, looking to solve the mystery of a missing painting and a related murder. What he finds is nothing less than love, sacrifice, survival, genius, depravity, and hope. The talented Blackwell (An Unfinished Score, 2010, etc.) weaves an elaborate web for her four major characters. Elizam, recently released from prison for theft, is hired to find a stolen Belgian masterpiece after two paintings by the same artist are discovered in a hotel room beside a dead man. His investigation quickly leads him to Johanna, a beautiful art restorer with a painful past and a debt owed to Clay, a New Orleans blue blood with creative sexual tastes. Marion, an artist/bartender, begins a relationship with Clay and hires Johanna to restore some of her art, damaged by the recent hurricane. The novel is smoothly and expertly plotted and the characters layered, but at the core lies the city itself: seething, wounded, garish, and unstoppable. Blackwell includes the reader in New Orleans' sordid, beautiful past and present with sentences such as "This nourished an understanding that a history can be adopted, that the history of the city could be her history and that she could become part of its history, regardless of where she'd been born or how recently she'd arrived. After all, that was what New Orleans had always been: a receiver of outsiders and immigrants, a blender, a granter of new identities, a place where you could disappear and then resurface under new terms." In this novel, Blackwell has created a vibrant amalgamation of mystery, classic noir, erotica, and ekphrasis. The novel's greatest strength is how it imbues both the loftiest and the seediest moments with grandeur and pathos without being overwrought or overwritten. An artful, gritty love story, eulogy, and survivor narrative for the city of New Orleans post-Katrina.