Mortal Sins

Written by Penn Williamson
Review by John R. Vallely

New Orleans’ reputation for political corruption and urban violence serves as an intriguing backdrop for the outlandish behavior and Mardi Gras mayhem also associated with this most un-American of all American cities. Williamson’s novel is a gritty and violent introduction to the New Orleans not discussed by travel agents. Set in 1927, the plot revolves around homicide detective Daman Rourke’s investigation of the brutal killing of a prominent New Orleans attorney. The main suspect is Remy Lelourie, a beautiful Hollywood actress who had been Rourke’s lover. Rourke, a man haunted by his past and ill at ease with the world in which he lives, doggedly pursues his search for justice in a city where truth is cloaked by moral ambiguity.

All of the characters are deeply flawed, and most are haunted by the family secrets that continually intrude on their everyday existence. The uncertain and often baffling relations between whites and blacks crop up throughout the police investigation. The author’s description of the social life and customs of the New Orleans of the Roaring 20’s is a richly detailed and accurate representation of this world. Williamson obviously spent many an hour on her research. This is not a novel for the faint of heart. The blood begins to flow on the first page and never truly stops until the last.

If one is uncomfortable with this style of writing, Mortal Sins should be avoided at all costs. If, on the other hand, one enjoys the rough realism of such police stories, then Williamson’s novel will be a delight.