Good Man Friday
Piano-playing, crime-solving Benjamin January returns in a new installment of Barbara Hambly’s excellent mystery series. This time, instead of his usual haunt of 1830s New Orleans, January heads to the fledgling Washington, DC on the trail of an English mathematician who abruptly disappeared some months ago. Though January is traveling with wealthy sugar planter Henri Viellard and his wife, the capital is still fraught with danger for a free man of color, between slave-stealers and riots. But January is always resourceful and does not let the tense race issues of the city interfere with his investigation. Calling upon new friends—including a young Edgar Allan Poe and notables such as John Quincy Adams—he follows the trail from drawing room to drawing room. Though all signs point to the missing Englishman being dead, his enemies are alive and willing to kill to protect their secrets.
This is another solid mystery from Hambly. Though not set in January’s home of New Orleans, she builds the setting with the same dedication to detail so that you feel the dusty streets of young Washington DC and the rough-and-tumble crowd. As always, her research is well done and carefully worked in so that the whole book bursts with historical fact. It seemed I was learning something new about this fascinating era on every page, but Hambly pulls it off so that fact is seamless within story. All of the elements are there: an intriguing mystery that keeps you guessing, a smart and capable protagonist in January, and a cast of complex and interesting supporting characters, all held together with excellent prose. Recommended, especially to anyone looking for historical fiction set in less-common eras and settings.