S.J. Higbee's Reviews > Death and Hard Cider

Death and Hard Cider by Barbara Hambly
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it was amazing
bookshelves: to-read

Despite this being the nineteenth book in the series, it’s the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reading about Ben’s adventures. And what a ride it was… Hambly’s prose is richly descriptive of the lush, often hedonistic setting that starkly rubs shoulders with utter poverty and deprivation. We see all this through Ben January’s eyes, who was brought up in New Orleans – but then spent time in France, where he trained as a surgeon. So while he is very familiar with the neighbourhood, he isn’t as necessarily as accepting of the ingrained and cultural prejudice as many of his peers. It’s a tricky balance to achieve, but Hambly negotiates it well.

In New Orleans, Ben obviously isn’t able to earn a decent living as a skilled medical man – none of the well-heeled white folks would entertain the notion of being treated by black man. However, he is also a skilled musician and with a series of grand election rallies coming up, he is employed to play at all these events – both the Democrat and Whig functions. Hambly gives us a ringside seat as inflammatory speeches are made, food and drink is handed out to the crowd and rousing songs slurring the reputations of political opponents are sung.

And throughout all the hectic activity, the dark thread of institutional prejudice, exclusion, double-standards and hypocrisy winds across the society. It’s masterfully done – and brought home to me just how much damage slavery wrought. Not only upon those whose lives were shackled to unceasing hard labour with no prospect of anything better – but also to those responsible for it. The story is all the more effective for Ben’s bitter acceptance of such a miserable state of affairs, as Hambly is brilliant at showing, not telling. And since I finished this one, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the situation – particularly as slavery is still going on.

There is also a murder mystery to be solved. Initially, I thought the pacing was a tad slow – but I think that’s because of the rather chatty blurb. If I hadn’t been waiting for a certain key event, I don’t think it would have been an issue. After the murder, consequences roll forward and Ben has to get involved to save the life of someone very dear to him. To be honest, I would have been happy with this book if the whodunit aspect had been averagely good, given the quality of the backdrop and its vivid depiction. But the icing on the cake is that the murder mystery is very well executed, with a brilliant denouement. This might have been the first Ben January mystery I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.

Very highly recommended for fans of historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an arc of Death and Hard Cider from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10
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Reading Progress

May 25, 2022 – Shelved as: to-read
May 25, 2022 – Shelved
Started Reading
June 8, 2022 – Finished Reading

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