cover image DEAD WATER


Barbara Hambly, . . Bantam, $25 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10964-1

Hambly's brilliantly crafted eighth historical (after 2003's Days of the Dead ) brings the antebellum South so alive you could swear the author traveled back in time to observe her settings firsthand. One day a week the slaves of New Orleans gather at Circus Square (aka Congo Square): "Those who had garden plots sold their surplus produce: tomatoes and corn… and peaches whose scent turned the thick hot air around them to molten gold." Series hero Benjamin January, a former slave, and his gracious wife Rose own a fine home in which they've begun a school to educate young girls of color. But when the president of the bank where all the Januarys' money has been deposited comes to them and confides that a bank employee has cleaned out the coffers, the pair have only one choice: follow the thief and recover the money before a substantial payment is due on their mortgage. Enlisting the aid of their cultured and charming white ne'er-do-well friend, Hannibal Sefton, the two pose as Hannibal's slaves/servants and board a steamboat heading up the Mississippi River. On the boat, they find themselves amid slave runners, abolitionists and a host of interesting, unsavory and downright terrifying individuals. So when their quarry is transformed into a corpse, it's no wonder the trio have no idea who might be trusted. This riveting novel of suspense is sure to win Hambly many new fans. Agent, Fran Collin. (Aug. 3)