cover image Fever Season

Fever Season

Barbara Hambly. Bantam Books, $23.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10254-3

Learned black surgeon Benjamin January returns from his debut as protagonist in A Free Man of Color (1997) to utilize his considerable skills in a graphic and compelling story based on events that transpired in 1834. The Paris-trained physician, still grieving for his recently deceased wife, is back in New Orleans after a 16-year absence and his now treating the victims of a raging cholera epidemic. But his position at Charity Hospital is precarious--accepted in his own mixed-race society, he is scorned by most whites. Now, even in the chaotic mayhem of an epidemic, January becomes aware of a disturbing fact: free people of color are disappearing. Are they dying? Are they being abducted to be resold as slaves? Although chronically fatigued from his multiple occupations (he gives piano lessons to eke out his income) and the demands of his eccentric family, he nonetheless manages to begin a discreet investigation that will involve some unique and idiosyncratic individuals including street people, con men and aristocrats. He even forms an unlikely alliance with a coarse, yet astute, white police lieutenant. January's queries are further complicated by the disappearance of his friend Cora, who may be implicated in theft and murder. Complex in plotting, rich in atmosphere and written in powerful, lucid prose, this compelling mystery holds its secrets until a horrifying, compelling finale. (July)