Written by Don Bruns — This current-day police procedural is the first of a new series set in New Orleans. Bruns – with five books in his Caribbean series and seven in the Stuff series – delights in the Big Easy’s atmosphere and culture in creating his backdrops, characters, and actions. It’s a story that could take place only there, which is a real plus. The book is like a visit without the hangover.
Disgraced former Detroit police detective Quentin Archer has relocated to Nawlins to restart his career. He couldn’t stay in Detroit after turning over a fellow Motor City cop – and, by the way, his two policeman brothers – for drug dealing. Then someone murdered his wife and, so far, he can’t find out who. It was leave town or be killed. Suffice it to say, he’s a man who needs to watch his back.
Relations aren’t that much better in his new job. He can’t trust his partner, who admits to selling information about cases to unknown parties – he only hopes it’s the FBI – and the sergeant in charge really doesn’t like Archer. You have to wonder why. In the way of supervisors everywhere, he can make Archer’s life miserable and does.
When the body of a New Orleans juvenile court judge is found floating in the Mississippi, the principal question on Archer’s mind is: why? Why shoot Judge David Lerner? Was it because of his notoriously harsh sentences? Or did it have to do with the mysterious printouts found in the trunk of his Jag? Before questions can be answered, two more juvenile court judges are dead – one in a strange, possibly staged, motor vehicle accident, and the other in a mugging-gone-wrong. Again, why?
In true New Orleans style, it’s as if the murky waters of the Mississippi obscure the desire for justice. Archer is at first subtly, then strongly discouraged from conducting a real investigation. Meanwhile, his partner- with the connivance of the higher-ups concerned about tourism – is on the verge of pinning Lerner’s death on a young black kitchen worker. Author Bruns makes it perfectly plausible that in such an environment, miscarriages of justice like this seem not only possible, but likely. Archer has just a few days to come up with an alternative scenario that sticks.
Then he’s tipped off that a uniquely New Orleans organisation – Krewe Charbonerrie – is involved in the judges’ deaths. The Krewes are known for staging the Mardi Gras celebrations and for charitable works, but this one is a secret society for the ultra-wealthy. The fact that each member has a coiled snake tattooed on his wrist seems contrary to their desire for anonymity, and their leader was not a believable character, verging on the cartoonish.
These hints come from Solange Cordray, a voodoo priestess. Because this is a multiple point-of-view novel, you read Cordray’s interpretation of events as well as Archer’s, his partner’s, and others’. Her perspective makes it clear that her sense of events past and future is not a cynical fabrication, and that, although what she perceives as messages from the spirits is not always clear, she is sincere in believing them. Cordray and her clients and contacts provide colour and mystery to the plot. Even if you’re not generally drawn to supernatural elements, you can find Solange and her intuition convincing.
Throughout Archer’s pursuit of the murderers, his past continues to resurface. An old buddy in the Detroit PD calls with information about the car that ran down his wife. Though one of his brothers is in jail, thanks to Archer, the other is on the run, and a constant threat to him. This part of the plot seems thin, and these loose ends are not totally tied up by the end, suggesting sequels to come.
Voodoo is a popular ingredient in crime novels, appearing in previous CFL-reviewed books The Beatitudes, The Axeman’s Jazz, and Voodoo Eyes, among others. The first two of these are also set in the Big Easy.
This is another book that could have used better proofreading. Homonyms especially seem to trip up this publisher. But the bottom line is that this is a fast-paced read with great atmosphere and interesting characters and situations.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars