Murder in July
Barbara Hambly’s fourteenth Benjamin January mystery might be her best yet. Set in 1830s New Orleans and Paris, the story is rich in historical detail that flows almost unnoticeably into the storytelling. Well written and researched, Murder in July is a treat for historians and mystery enthusiasts alike.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Here is a sketch of what happens in New Orleans in July, 1839. A British courier, Henry Brooke, is found dead—apparently shot and then dumped into a canal. January, a surgeon and musician who has a reputation for solving crimes, receives a request from the British consul to find Brooke’s killer. Concurrently, January’s sister, Olympe, pleads for his assistance in behalf of her friend, Jaquette, who has been charged with the murder.
January cannot refuse. His first clue is that Brooke was shot with a “muff pistol,” a flintlock gun small enough to conceal in a lady’s muff. January has encountered muff pistols before, in 1830 during the July revolution in Paris. A friend, Aristide Carnot, was shot with such a pistol, his body dumped clandestinely onto a barricade. A woman was hanged for the murder, unjustly in January’s mind. As January revisits the events of 1830, the two murders begin to look a lot alike—another clue that leads to a tension filled climax.
I look forward to every new Benjamin January book. The characters are forever colorful, the stories well-paced, and the history always offers new insight. And—I always come away with mixed feelings. One is pure pleasure in fine storytelling. The other is grief over the brutality of life for African Americans, something Ms. Hambly paints all too realistically. But there’s no question that the series deserves high praise, which I confidently pass on.