DON'T MISS THIS AUTHOR!
Although it may take a few chapters to engage with the characters, it is well worth the effort. I have read the first 5 (of 8 written to date) in this wonderfully evocative series and find myself missing these complex, finely detailed people between books.
This first Benjamin January mystery in an outstanding series is for anyone interested in New Orleans history. Why hasn't Oprah latched onto this for her book club? I keep picturing Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (the late Mr. Eko on TV's Lost) as Ben. Great characters and incredible atmosphere.
The Benjamin January series features an African American hero who was born in still-French Louisiana at the turn of the 19th century. His mother is the mistress of a plantation owner and his sister is following that path as well. Benjamin went to Paris to train as a doctor and returns to New Orleans only after the death of his beloved wife. The mysteries he solves are satisfying, and the history of New Orleans before it became U.S. territory and in the first years after is fascinating -- something most of us don't get in our U.S. history classes in school!
Part of Hambly's Benjamin January mystery series, A Free Man of Color is set in New Orleans in 1833, revealing the extremely complex city, socially, politically and economically, and especially matters of race. Charting the subtle but important distinctions made between people of direct or mixed African ancestry, Hambly develops Benjamin January's search for a brutal killer of the beautiful light-skinned Angelique Corzat at one of the season's most important Quadroon Balls. Benjamin January himself is a "free man of color" a gens de colouer. He is also a musician educated in classical music and a surgeon who has returned to New Orleans after several years of schooling in Paris. January, seeking to ease the pain and loss he experienced in Paris, experiences little succor in New Orleans, where, even as a free man, he is still relegated to second-class status. Unable to practice as a surgeon, he attempts to eke out a living as a musician, playing at the balls and operas which proliferated in New Orleans during this time.
Of the many popular social events in New Orleans, the quadroon balls ranked as the crem-de-la-creme of demi monde society. These were social events in which wealthy, white Creole men would meet, and select, a quadroon (child of a mulatto and full white) mistress. The man, or protector, would then support his mistress, or placee, in high fashion, though he would do so separate from his own household. Should he choose to terminate the relationship, he would often provide a settlement to his placee sufficient for her to continue to live in the fashion to which she had become accustomed. And, all the while, the wife and/or family of the protector would feign ignorance. It is while playing at a quadroon ball that January is drawn into a web of intrigue against his own desires. He encounters a masked lady of his acquaintance, the recently widowed Mademoiselle Madeleine, who is preparing to do what, for a white woman, is simply unthinkable for that place and time: enter quadroon ball to confront Angelique Crozat, her late husband's mistress. January offers to function as an intermediary to arrange a meeting between Madeleine and Angelique. His offer quickly goes awry however, when Angelique is found brutally murdered at the ball.
The local authorities, given Angelique's place and station in society, are initially reluctant to pursue the matter. It accordingly is left to January to obtain what justice he can for her by investigating the murder himself. As the clues slowly point to the son of a wealthy, prominent, white New Orleanian, however, January, to his horror, finds himself under a cloud of suspicion which is growing ever larger and darker. The investigation takes on a new urgency as he realizes that he must find Angelique's murderer as much to obtain justice for her as to save himself. A fascinating book, part history, part historical novel, and an intriguing, highly readable mystery.
A well plotted mystery full of surprises, taking place in the unusual setting of 1833 New Orleans, in the Creole community. All sorts of fascinating glimpses into issues of race and culture of the time. Protagonist Benjamin January is himself a mystery, one who doesn't quite get solved in one book.
Hambly is best known for her vampire novels. This one introduces an interesting, engaging protagonist "of color", Benjamin January, and weaves the struggles of an educated, cosmopolitan African-American man at a time when such individuals were extremely rare, along with a heaping helping of voodoo-laced mystery and societal intrigue. A cut above the usual.
Vikki C. (Vikki) reviewed A Free Man of Color (Benjamin January, Bk 1) on
I first read Fever Season and enjoyed it so much that I went back and started at the beginning with this book. As fresh a book as when it first came out and well worth starting this series at the beginning!
This book starts a terrific series about a freed slave who, after training as a surgeon in Paris, returns to New Orleans in 1833. Barred from practicing medicine because of his color, Benjamin January makes his living playing and teaching piano for the wealthy white planters. Excellent research creates a solid foundation for this series of murder mysteries in which New Orleans history plays a critical role.
I love Barbara Hambly, and this book was just moving. It has everything Ms Hambly is famous for and then some. A beautiful read in a era that was mysterous in it's own. Southern mystery is all i have to hear and i'm on it. This is part of a series, but the book stands alone beautifully. Just one read of Ms. Hamnly's and you will be hooked. Slaves is the south is the era, which makes for history with mystery, death and suspense makes for a perfect read.
This series is excellent. If you enjoy historical fiction set in 1800 US you will enjoy this series. Ms. Hambly does an excellent job with her character development and desctition of the time. You really feel like you understand the time period. Good mystery as well. I highly recommend.
A Free Man of Color is set in New Orleans in 1833. A free black man of mixed race, he obtained his skills as a physician in France. However, after his beloved wife dies, he returns home where his life as a surgeon is over because of his color. He makes his living through music, playing the piano with talent and skill in various sites and teaching the children of those whose status is above his own.
This tale begins during Mardi Gras when a woman is murdered at a ball where Benjamin is playing. Hoping to help a former student, he confronts the woman only to be rebuffed. However, because of his color he is seen by many and becomes the key suspect. To clear his name he searches for those who were at the ball when the murder was committed and works to find the motive. He is beaten, his papers destroyed and told he will be sold as a slave regardless of his free man status. Becoming acqainted with a white detective charged with finding the murderer, Benjamin is told must find solid proof of who the murderer is in order to free his name.
The author's research is extensive as she describes the culture of the times and the deep divisions based on color and parentage. Race, gender and class form insurmountable divisions among members of the city. Even his own mother avoids Benjamin because of how society views those as black as he is.
Many white slave owners have coloured mistresses which he puts in her own home whom he visits frequently. Scenes at the ball show men moving from a ball attended by their mistresses to one nearby attended by their wives and other relatives. The murdered woman is one such mistress but who killed her and why? This is a well drafted mystery with excellent period background.
1833, Mardi Gras, Benjamin January, a Creole physician and music teacher, is playing piano at the Salle d'Orleans when the evening's festivities are interrupted by murder. What follows is a great tale of the south and color and murder.