Tuesday, July 17, 2012

FEVER SEASON by Barbara Hambly

Men don’t need to be evil, Mademoiselle. They just need to be bad enough to say, “There’s nothing I can do.”


Barbara Hambly’s Fever Season is equal parts history and mystery.

During the 1833 New Orleans cholera epidemic, surgeon and free man of color Benjamin January investigates three seemingly separate crimes.

Someone poisons a gambling-addicted ne’er-do-well and his wife. The man’s wife accuses her runaway servant Cora of the crime.

A ring of thugs kidnap free people of color and other blacks. They ship them to Missouri to sell them as slaves.

And a neighbor accuses a prominent New Orleans woman of throwing a child off her roof. The neighbor says the woman tortures her servants. January knows the woman from her charity work with the dying during the epidemic.

January earns his living as a musician. He plays the piano (and other instruments) for New Orleans balls. Surgeons at that time are below doctors. Though he was educated in Paris, January is still subservient to incompetent, abusive doctors.

There is also a love story. January is a widower who lost his beloved wife in a Paris epidemic. He meets and falls in love with the teacher Rosa. Both are wounded people. Only tragedies can cement their love.

And of course, race plays a huge role in the story.

The story resolves itself in action. The author bases all the action on historical events.

This is a complex book.  I confess, I struggle with these books, but I love them. Hambly fills her stories with meticulously-researched history. The historical setting is unfamiliar to me. The castes are hard to keep straight. I even struggle with the vocabulary.  

But Hambly’s sense of justice, her command of the history, and her depiction of the people all make Fever Season worth reading.

On the basis of my having read the first two books, I highly recommend the Benjamin January series. I also warn you. These books are not quick, easy reading.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Read one of hers early on that I loved but somehow lost track of her.

Joe Barone said...

I think they are wonderful, at least the two I've read.