Ran Away by Barbara Hambly is the 11th entry in her Benjamin January mystery series. This one has a rather odd structure. It’s like two novellas combiRan Away by Barbara Hambly is the 11th entry in her Benjamin January mystery series. This one has a rather odd structure. It’s like two novellas combined into one as we begin in “present-day” 1830s New Orleans with Benjamin January married to Rose and called upon to investigate the death of two Turkish concubines. Almost immediately, however, we enter into an extended flashback to the days when Ben was living in Paris and married to Ayasha. This flashback continues over half the book and is a complete little story in its own. Then we return to Ben’s present and pick up with a new mystery starring some of the same characters.
It’s odd, but I didn’t mind it. It was nice to see more of Ben’s life in Paris. The truncated “present-day” story meant that we saw a lot less of the supporting characters, virtually No Livia or Minou or Olympe, and very little of Shaw or Hannibal. All in all, a decent entry in a decent series. ...more
A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly is a historical mystery set in 1833 New Orleans. The “detective” is the titular freeman, Benjamin January, a surA Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly is a historical mystery set in 1833 New Orleans. The “detective” is the titular freeman, Benjamin January, a surgeon and a talented musician. He has just returned to his family home after years abroad. When the mistress of a wealthy man is murdered, he becomes embroiled in the investigation.
Benjamin January is a somber and thoughtful character. He is heartbroken over the death of his wife, his estranged family, and the cruel and unfair system under which they all live. He is further frustrated by the unspoken acceptance of said system by everyone he knows, and the crushing probability that said system is about to get a lot crueler and a lot more unfair.
We get a fascinating picture of this particular part of the Antebellum south. The French subculture of New Orleans was older than the plantation system, more sophisticated, with a complicated, gradated, caste system based on exactly how many white ancestors someone had. It was perhaps less brutal than the plantation culture, but still horribly cruel. Of course, Louisiana was, at this time, being absorbed into the United States. So “Creole” society’s particular brand bigotry was also being undermined by “Americans” who have very different, much cruder social distinctions in mind. Barbara Hambly does a good job and explaining and portraying all these different tensions.
It was nice and unexpected that Benjamin gained an ally in Lt. Shaw, of the police, a “Kaintuck” hillbilly, who is (somewhat improbably) really reasonable and helpful. I think that Lt. Shaw was my favorite supporting character.
As befits a decent mystery, the narrative is sprinkled with detours and red herrings. The ending is a little cheesy, with one or two “surprise twists” too many and a little too much going on. It may be just a little too long. All in all, though, it was a pretty good read. ...more