WET GRAVE, by Barbara Hambly

6/series. A Free Man of Color begins this compelling series, set in the early 1830's in New Orleans. As a powerfully-built 6'3" black man, Benjamin January is often taken as a field slave, but he's a free man of color, a physician and a musician. His mother, a placee (part-colored mistress - often a former slave - of a white man, usually a plantation owner), was bought from the cane fields by her protector, who also bought her two children. The entire series is compelling, and a disquieting look into the lives of both blacks and whites in New Orleans during its formative years. Billed as the Jean Lafitte Treasure Book, this story begins with the murder of a one-time mistress of one of Lafitte's captains. The victim is black, desperately poor, selling herself for a cup of rum to anyone with the price. Click for more...
Of course the white establishment has other crimes to consider, including a sensational one at a plantation downstream from the city. January is living on his savings during the quiet summer months, paying court to Rose whose terrible past has made her afraid of men. Incensed by the woman's death in a squalid shack at the edge of the swamp, they are drawn into the intrigue surrounding the woman's murder, but also into a shocking conspiracy that will cost January someone he loves dearly. These marvelous, colorful, evocative - and at times chilling - novels really are best read in order. Give yourself a treat and start reading Hambly's series soon. A 5.