Yune's Reviews > Ran Away

Ran Away by Barbara Hambly
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Aug 10, 2011

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bookshelves: historical-mystery

At an early point in this book I sort of poinged! and said aloud (to the great confusion of my co-workers), "Ayasha's book!"

Let me step back: this is not a prequel to the series, where Benjamin January, a free man of color, lives in nineteenth century New Orleans. But there is a frame to a fairly extensive flashback (which contains its own little mystery about a runaway girl), so this remains the rightful sequel to The Shirt on His Back.

I was excited to meet Benjamin's first wife, Ayasha, who's been referenced in the earlier books of this series; eager, too, to see how Ben lived in Paris without the chains of social restraints against people with dark skin. And this period is evoked beautifully: Benjamin is lighter-hearted, prone to teasing his wife, who is very much a vivid personality. I'm only sorry it took this long to get to meet her.

In contrast, Rose seems to only get a cameo role, little moments that reminded me why I liked her but hardly enough to bring her out as a true equal to Benjamin. This is pretty important when the man is suddenly having yearning dreams about his first wife -- a matter handled with delicate care by the end, but which felt clumsy along the way. I'm also frankly astonished that (view spoiler).

Of course, Ben's time at home is limited because he's trying to solve a murder -- or rather, unsolve it for everyone who's convinced that a Turkish man indeed pushed his two concubines to their death out of his front window. Why Ben's bothering to do this is based upon a past encounter. Then mix in drug addiction, the Underground Railway, American reactions to a Muslim, cross-dressing, a man with gold in a time of economic depression, early forensic techniques with a microscope...

Is your head swimming? Mine was. Each of these things were so interesting on its own, but they all just served the greater murder mystery.

For sheer setting flavor and marvelous characters and strong writing, this book deserves a higher rating. There's a reason I'm willing to buy hardcover editions for this series. But it felt crammed full of too much, and while it all connected in the end, the ride was a bit bumpy for me. Don't get me wrong: I still love Benjamin January and will happily acquire the next one in hardcover as well. But I wouldn't call this the strongest of the set.
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