Barbara Hambly's first Star Wars novel was the New York Times bestselling Children of the Jedi. Her other novels range from high fantasies to historical mysteries to vampire tales. She holds both a master's degree in medieval history and a black belt in Shotokan karate. A multiple Nebula Award nominee, she has also been president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She lives in Los Angeles.
Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series are some of the best crime fiction currently being published .... this is the best of all of them to date. Hambly takes the themes of her work, slavery and living in fear (themes she also explores in her fantasy novels which are also superb) and applies them to Mexico. She moves her main characters to this totally new environment and explores the meaning of slavery and freedom and the consequences of being in a vulnerable position. For once, January is not in fear of being sold down the river and has more respect and freedom of movement but the other characters live in a variety of fears, man made, religious or the products of disturbed minds. The crime story is only one thread in this fascinating exploration of a culture. Hambly is a brilliant writer who can generate an environment and believable characters and who has no pat answers to the situations she writes about. I recommend this to anyone who wants a thrilling read.
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Benjamin January and his new wife, Rose, are caught up in Mexican intrigue in Days of the Dead, Barbara Hambly's latest January novel. In it, Hambly removes January from the familiar confines of 1830s New Orleans to put him in a new environment, though the suspense, mystery, and characterization is the same: top-notch. Hambly has done her research and it shows, as she immerses the reader in chaotic Mexico City in 1835, months before General Santa Anna marched on Texas. The fact that she provides an interesting story that will always keep you guessing is an added benefit. Barbara Hambly has long been one of my favourite authors, and the January series is always a treat. She's always been a master at creating atmosphere, but New Orleans has always seemed to inspire her to new heights. This time, she transplants this to Mexico City, but she continues to set the stage well. Her descriptions are wonderful, placing the reader right into the dirty streets, the majestic countryside or the Aztec pyramids. Even when she just has two characters walking down the street talking, she sets the mood with the vivid descriptions of the lepers begging for money, the carriages trundling down the street, and the merchants hawking their goods. If you are not a fan of description and just want the "meat" of the story, then Hambly's books are not for you. But if you like to be "in the scene" with the characters, you can't beat the January series. That doesn't mean that nothing happens in these books. Far from it. The mystery that Hambly presents is intriguing and will definitely have you wondering what's going on. There is a little bit of action too as the bullets do fly, and the ending is breathtaking in its tension.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Days of the Dead25 July 2003
- Published on Amazon.com
January and Rose must travel to Mexico to rescue Hannibal Sefton, who has been accused of murder. An enjoyable, clever historical murder mystery, not transcending the genre like the last book in the series, but certainly worth reading. Sentence-level writing seems particularly smooth. The historical period is evoked with great detail and believably. Though I guessed the cause of death quickly (this made me happy), I never quite figured out what the motivation was that caused the victim to be murdered; the murderer is given various motives but the exact breaking point remains vague. As well, there are scads o' characters, and I'm not sure we really need them all. Don Prospero's manic Homeric crazes and rants about Central American gods are funny, scary, and believable despite their extremity. Sefton is an attractive secondary character, and his actions at the conclusion of the book give it a needed touch of seriousness. At times, with the atmosphere of old gods and sacrifices, I felt as if Hambly had been tempted to sneak in a bit of the dark fantasy that she writes so well. I for one would have enjoyed that. Exciting and well worth reading, though not as thematically serious as some of the other books in the series have been. I recommend it.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Can the dead return and identify their murderers?17 Oct. 2003
- Published on Amazon.com
Benjamin January and his new wife, Rose, are caught up in Mexican intrigue in Days of the Dead, Barbara Hambly's latest January novel. In it, Hambly removes January from the familiar confines of 1830s New Orleans to put him in a new environment, though the suspense, mystery, and characterization is the same: top-notch. Hambly has done her research and it shows, as she immerses the reader in chaotic Mexico City in 1835, months before General Santa Anna marched on Texas. The fact that she provides an interesting story that will always keep you guessing is an added benefit. Barbara Hambly has long been one of my favourite authors, and the January series is always a treat. She's always been a master at creating atmosphere, but New Orleans has always seemed to inspire her to new heights. This time, she transplants this to Mexico City, but she continues to set the stage well. Her descriptions are wonderful, placing the reader right into the dirty streets, the majestic countryside or the Aztec pyramids. Even when she just has two characters walking down the street talking, she sets the mood with the vivid descriptions of the lepers begging for money, the carriages trundling down the street, and the merchants hawking their goods. If you are not a fan of description and just want the "meat" of the story, then Hambly's books are not for you. But if you like to be "in the scene" with the characters, you can't beat the January series. That doesn't mean that nothing happens in these books. Far from it. The mystery that Hambly presents is intriguing and will definitely have you wondering what's going on. There is a little bit of action too as the bullets do fly, and the ending is breathtaking in its tension. Hambly does a wonderful job wrapping the mystery around the setting, making Mexico an integral part of it. While Hambly has clearly done a lot of research into the time period, she doesn't present it to the reader on a plate, showcasing it. Instead, everything that she puts in there is for a purpose. Some of it is to set the scene, but most of it does involve the mystery in some way, including the ways family worked in Mexico at the time. It truly is seamless and the reader can learn a lot just by reading (she does point out, in notes at the back of the book, a couple of incidents of poetic license she took). All the characters can be a bit confusing at first, but overall she does very well with them. It can be a bit hard to keep all of the family relationships straight in the reader's mind. One good thing that she does, avoiding a trap that other series writers don't always, is she doesn't force all of her characters into a book. In Wet Grave, she left Hannibal out. In Days of the Dead, she doesn't come up with some reason why January's family would get involved in something down in Mexico. Thus, his sisters and mother, along with Lieutenant Shaw, make no appearance. While I missed Shaw (my favourite character in the series), I'm glad she didn't force the issue. So we're left with Ben, Rose, and Hannibal, and all three of them are marvelous. Rose has grown in the previous books from a woman who is very reserved and fearful of men into a self-assured woman who is even able to flirt when necessary to find out information. Some people may think that's bad characterization, but I think it's a natural growth that her exposure to Benjamin and her ability to finally give in to her love for him has caused. She's dealt with her demons, and she has moved on, and Hambly has handled her progression wonderfully. Ben and Hannibal are also very interesting people with weaknesses and faults, but virtues that go beyond them. She handles the guest characters with equal aplomb. All of them are distinctive in some way, though again there are so many at first that it's hard to keep track. They aren't cardboard at all, with each one given three dimensions in some way. Probably the best is the cook, Guillenormand, who is very feisty when it comes to his cooking being questioned, and flies off the handle at even the hint that something in his food may have caused the death. It's a wonderful scene and he's a wonderful character. I heartily recommend Days of the Dead. It's not necessary to read any of the previous books, but I do believe you'll get more out of it if you do. If you like suspense and historical mysteries, give the Benjamin January series a try. You won't regret it. David Roy
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Murder at the Feast6 April 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
Days of the Dead (2003) is the seventh novel in the Benjamin January series, following Wet Grave. In the previous volume, Ben and Rose are trapped by an abortive slave revolt, discovered an impromptu leper colony, survived a hurricane, caught a murderer, and found a pirate's treasure. Some days later, Ben assisted in the delivery of Dominique's baby and, that afternoon, married Rose in the St. Louis Cathedral.
In this novel, Ben receives a letter from his friend Hannibal Sefton just prior to the wedding. Hannibal has been accused of killing the son of his host in Mexico City, but is being protected from the police by that same host. Ben and Rose spend their honeymoon traveling, first by sailing vessel to Vera Cruz and then by diligence -- i.e., stagecoach -- to Mexico City. This journey takes several weeks and they are continually afraid that they will arrive too late.
As they approach Mexico City, the diligence is ambushed by bandits and one passenger is killed, but the others manage to drive off their attackers. Ben is almost killed himself by the black leader, El Moro. After clearing customs outside the city and reaching the stage office, Ben and Rose take a buggy to the town house of Don Prospero de Castellon, where they are met by Consuela Montero, Don Prospero's illegitimate daughter and Hannibal's lover. There they are informed that Hannibal is being held against his will by Don Prospero because he is the only decent conversationalist available and he also plays the violin like an angel. Don Prospero is waiting for the spirit of his son Fernando, the victim, to come back on the Day of the Dead to accuse his murderer and, in the meantime, he will keep Hannibal close by for the company.
Don Prospero is apparently mad as a hatter, but quite shrewd enough to have become richer while all around him others have been ruined by the two and a half decades of civil war. His son was sent to Prussia for military school and had become enamored with German methods and manners. He was such a cold-hearted monster that other members of the family have forgiven Hannibal for poisoning him.
Even Consuela is sure that Hannibal is guilty, but is quite willing to smuggle him out of the country. When Ben begins to question the family and other interested parties, everything he finds only makes Hannibal look even more guilty. Moreover, Capitan Ylario, a local police official, is so convinced that Hannibal is guilty, and so angry at the way Don Prospero and General Santa Anna are protecting him, that he has made arrangements with a local judge for a quick trial and execution as soon as he can get the murderer to the courtroom, but so far he has been frustrated by Don Prospero's men.
This novel portrays Mexico City and environs as they were before Santa Anna lead his army against the Texian rebels at the Alamo. The cast includes the hacendados -- the rich ranchers of the time -- and their families, Europeans of various nationalities, Americans (and one Texian), and a host of others including the leperos (only a few of which are actually lepers; most are merely impoverished farmers).
This era was a time in which great fortunes were made and lost, a time of great corruption, and a time of grinding poverty. Most of the woes of that time could be directly attributed to Santa Anna, who changed his loyalties as another man would change his gloves. However, there were plenty of others at this time who were willing to sell spavined horses and adulterated corn to the Mexican army quartermasters. This milieu made contemporary New Orleans seem positively genteel.
This series is hard to classify and the books are often found is odd places within a store. These novels are mysteries in a historical context or historical fiction with a suspenseful plot or early 19th century black detective stories. Personally, I would place them on a shelf near Poe's mysteries. One wonders if Ben was anywhere near the Rue Morgue when the first fictional detective was investigating a murder there.
Highly recommended for Hambly fans and anyone else who enjoys black detective stories set in the historical context of New Orleans (and Mexico City) during the 1830's.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Good addition to this series2 July 2003
- Published on Amazon.com
In 1835, free man of color Benjamin January accompanied by his wife Rose leave New Orleans for Mexico City to provide mental support to his friend opium user, classics user Hannibal Sefton, being hanged for murder. Sefton was one of twenty-four guests attending a dinner provided by Don Prospero de Castellon. However, he is the chosen one accused of poisoning the host's son, the loathed Fernando. Prospero anticipates Fernando's ghost returning home during the Day of the Dead celebration and when his son's spirit visits he will explain how Sefton killed him. Though the day is soon here, the Guardia Civil Capitan wants to hang Sefton today, but Generalissimo Santa Anna orders him to wait. Seeking to insure that "all's well that ends well", Benjamin and Rose investigate the numerous guests, workers, and family members to ascertain motive and means in order to prove that Sefton may quote Lady MacBeth but is not the killer. Though a scorecard is needed to keep track of the suspects that number more than two teams on a football field, DAYS OF THE DEAD is a cleverly written locked door historical mystery. Moving Benjamin to Mexico City provides the audience a different fresh look to 1835 and to the now married protagonist. The lead couple remains a pleasure to follow as they serve as hosts to an intriguing era on the North American continent within a fun to try to solve who-done-it. Harriet Klausner
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1930s Mexico15 July 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Benjamin January, hero of Barbara Hambly's historical mysteries, this time leaves New Orleans for lawless Mexico City hoping to save his friend Hannibal Sefton, who is accused of a murder he claims he did not commit. We include this book because of the helpful role of January's new wife Rose, who enthusiastically does her part trying to untangle the confusing web of lies surrounding the man's death. January and Rose, both freed educated people of color, find themselves marginally more accepted in Mexico where the institution of slavery has been forbidden. They must, however, learn how Mexican society works - from the harsh restrictions placed on upper class women to the misuse of the Indian laborers. During the course of their investigations, Rose and January encounter General Santa Anna who is busy planning to march his "Army of Operations" north to "deal with the Norteamericano rebels." They also deal with bandit attacks and Mexico City's ever present beggars, driven from their villages by poverty and starvation, the result of twenty-five years of fighting that began in 1810 when Mexico first sought independence from Spain. Hambly has given us impressive and fascinating descriptions of Mexico City in this period, and of the physical layout and working life of a typical hacienda. Keeping track of the numerous personalities introduced in the plot, however, can be difficult.