Graveyard Dust (Benjamin January) Mass Market Paperback – 2 May 2000
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Benjamin January once again turns sleuth when his sister is arrested for murder, a crime with powerful ties to a voodoo death curse.
From the Inside Flap
author Barbara Hambly's A Free Man of Color and Fever Season established Benjamin January as one of mystery's most exciting heroes. Now he returns in a powerful new novel, a sensual mosaic of old New Orleans, where cultures clash and murder can hover around every darkened corner....
It is St. John's Eve in the summer of 1834 when Benjamin January--Creole physician and music teacher--is shattered by the news that his sister has been arrested for murder. The Guards have only a shadow of a case against her. But Olympe--mystical and rebellious--is a woman of color, whose chance for justice is slim.
As Benjamin probes the allegation, he is targeted by a new threat: graveyard dust sprinkled at his door, whispering of a voodoo death curse. Now, to save Olympe's life--and his own--Benjamin knows he must glean information wherever he can find it. For in the heavy darkness of New Orleans, the truth is what you make it, and justice can disappear with the night'
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Thank you, Ms. Hambly, for another great book.
Ben's sister is accused of selling poison to commit murder. As a black woman who is a Voodoo practitioner she is locked up in jail before trial as cholera begins to sweep the city. Ben needs to prove her innocence before she dies in jail or is sentenced to death. To do so he needs to find out what really happened.
The author evokes the atmosphere and the feeling of dread very well. The heat and noise of the ceremonies becomes very real. I cannot fault her depiction of the city, its people and the issues of the time. My problem with this book was that I failed at times to keep a grasp on the plot. There was so much atmosphere and so many characters I lost track of what was happening in the storyline whilst still enjoying the reading experience.
Not the best of this series but a great piece of descriptive writing.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The entire series is meticulously researched, and does a splendid job of capturing the age, and yet not neglecting the entertainment aspect of the book either. I feel like I've learned a lot about this time period, and for things I already knew a fair amount about (race relations at this time, the history of Haiti which comes into the series a bit), I'm pleased to see that Hambly has done a good job of accurately representing the times, including in terms of race relations.
I was a bit nervous about this book, because someone who studies and practices Vodou, I was worried that the New Orleans version of it (Voodoo) would be portrayed in the ways that it commonly is: ie. demonized and sensationalized. Frankly, the summary on the book flap also disturbed me, as it tends toward the sensational: with "tell tale signs of voodoo" and later a "voodoo death curse." So I was worried that a series I loved was going to become something I simply couldn't stomach. I was pleasantly surprised by the author's treatment of Voodoo. While there were certain things I feel are inaccurate (Baron Cemetery is not the same as Baron Samedi, and neither is as sinister or dangerous as portrayed in this book; I felt some of the portrayals of voodoo dances verged on sensational), I could live with them overall. In the end, January has to face his own prejudices regarding Voodoo, and he comes to realize what I hope others would realize as well: that there are many paths to the divine.
While voodoo is important in this book (one of the significant aspects of the plot is that January's sister, Olympe, is on trial, and thus her religious practice, Voodoo, is on trial as well), it is not the only aspect of the plot that made this book compelling. There is another plot point that ends the book that I can't discuss here without spoiling the end, but it involves the Jumon family, and it was so haunting and disturbing that I thought about the end of this book for days. In some ways this book is bleaker than earlier books, especially regarding the end, but that also makes it more haunting.
Overall, this is a favorite of mine, and even though I'd gotten the book from the library, I ended up buying a copy of my own I liked it so much.
Hambly's obvious attention to detail and research is impressive and lends a gritty, believable reality to the New Orleans of 1834. The story is gripping, the setting is fascinating, and the characters are compelling. Hambly doesn't pull any punches in depicting the darker side of human nature and it is present in full force, not the least in the everyday injustices experienced by slaves and the free colored. But the good side of human nature makes enough of an appearance to mitigate the bleak outlook. January's budding relationship with Rose Vitrac is touching as is his friendship with fellow musician Hannibal.
The action in the book is interspersed with a lot of soul searching by January as he tries to reconcile his Christianity with his sister's belief in voodoo. It's an interesting debate and it doesn't bog down the flow of the book. Some will find the descriptions of slavery and racism difficult to take, but Hambly in no way romanticizes the customs of the times.
You can learn a lot about voodoo, also. One of the nicer things about historical fiction is you learn a lot about things you never expected to learn.