Days of the Dead (Benjamin January Mysteries) Mass Market Paperback – 30 Apr 2004
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"Hambly's Mexico is frighteningly alive."--Publishers Weekly
From the Inside Flap
The "New York Times hails Barbara Hambly's novels featuring Benjamin January as "masterly," "ravishing," and "haunting." The "Chicago Tribune crowns them "dazzling...January is a wonderfully rich and complex character." Now the bestselling author returns with a story that leads January from the dangerously sensual milieu of New Orleans into a world seething with superstition and dark spirits, where one man's freedom turns on a case of murder and blood vengeance.
Days of the Dead
Mexico City in the autumn of 1835 is a lawless place, teeming with bandits and beggars. But an urgent letter from a desperate friend draws Benjamin January and his new bride Rose from New Orleans to this newly free province. Here they pray they'll find Hannibal Sefton alive--and not hanging from the end of a rope.Sefton stands accused of murdering the only son of prominent landowner Don Prospero de Castellon. But when Benjamin and Rose arrive at Hacienda Mictlan, they encounter a murky tangle of family relations, and more than one suspect in young Fernando's murder.
While the evidence against Hannibal is damning, Benjamin is certain that his consumptive, peace-loving fellow musician isn't capable of murder. Their only allies are the dead boy's half sister, who happens to be Hannibal's latest inamorata, and the mentally unstable Castellon himself, who awaits Mexico's holy Days of the Dead, when he believes his slain son will himself reveal the identity of his killer.The search for the truth will lead Benjamin and Rose down a path that winds from the mazes of the capital's back streets and barrios to the legendary pyramids of Mictlan and, finally, to a place where spirits walk and the dead cry out forjustice. But before they can lay to rest the ghosts of the past, Benjamin and Rose will have to stop a flesh-and-blood murderer who's determined to escape the day of reckoning and add Benjamin and Rose to the swelling ranks of the dead.
"From the Hardcover edition.See all Product description
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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.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
spring to life on the pages of Days of the Dead and tell the tales of life in this enchanting and tormented city. Interspersed with rampant corruption and murder, convoluted justice, cruel prejudice, and tight-rope walks across the color line, there are sweet, sweet episodes that tell of romance, love, loyalty, and close family ties.