cover image Drinking Gourd: A Benjamin January Novel

Drinking Gourd: A Benjamin January Novel

Barbara Hambly. Severn, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8606-4

Hambly’s outstanding 14th Benjamin January novel (after 2014’s Crimson Angel), set in the summer of 1839, takes the free black physician from New Orleans to Vicksburg, Miss., whose swampy environs hide runaway slaves desperate to join the Underground Railroad and “follow the drinking gourd” north to freedom. When Ezekias Drummond, the principal conductor of the local railroad, is stabbed to death, the authorities arrest Jubal Cain, who coordinates the whole railroad operation in Mississippi, for the crime. January, who’s been posing as a slave accompanying his white master, must identify Drummond’s killer before Cain’s role in the railroad is exposed. In addition to the slavery issue, Hambly focuses on broader social concerns. With panache and sensitivity, she explores the plight of women, both black and white, who can only endure abuses in such a society, and are rarely able to escape them as men sometimes can. Her well-tuned ear for the vernacular speech of her characters, whatever their race, is a plus. [em]Agent: Frances Collin, Frances Collin Literary. (July) [/em]