cover image Graveyard Dust

Graveyard Dust

Barbara Hambly. Bantam Books, $23.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10259-8

Voodoo deities and infectious diseases pervade the fetid summer atmosphere of the latest Benjamin January adventure. A musician, surgeon and free man of color in 1834 New Orleans, Ben is also a sleuth. Now he must investigate the recent death of one Isaak Jumon in order to free his own sister, Olympe, a voodoo priestess who has been accused of abetting the murder by supplying a poison to Isaak's young wife. But the woman claims that she did not buy poison from Olympe, rather that she obtained a hex directed at Isaak's avaricious mother, the widow of a wealthy New Orleans plantation owner. Ben's encounters with the city's intricate stratification of wealth, color, religion and nationality give this third in the series (after the acclaimed Fever Season) considerable texture. While he unravels the mystery, Ben also struggles on personal fronts: to recover from the loss of his wife to cholera; to stem the current epidemics of cholera and yellow fever, to endure the injustices of his society; to accept his sister's voodoo practices despite his Catholic beliefs. Hambly's plot, which revolves around evils confined to no race or class, is complex and often hard to track, but its emotional authenticity, varied cast and rich historical trappings give the novel power and depth. (July)