Sold Down the River Mass Market Paperback – May 29 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
The darkest time in American history comes alive in Hambley's unforgettable series of mysteries, of which this is the fourth, after Graveyard Dust. In 1835 New Orleans, Benjamin January is a Paris-educated surgeon and musician, but he's also a former slave. Along with white American policeman Abishag Shaw, Ben is asked to help out on an investigation into possible sabotage and murder at a sugar plantation up the river from the city. The catch is that the person asking is his former owner, the thoroughly evil Simon Fourchet. Ben must go to Fourchet's plantation, Mon Triomphe, and work undercover as a slave, chopping the sugarcane in the fields. Ben agrees to take on the dreadful job because he knows that if the "hoodoo" isn't found quickly, the lives and well-being of many slaves will be in jeopardy. Already, "les blankittes" (the whites) believe a slave revolt is brewing on the plantation, and their punishment of the slaves will surely be terrible if more incidents occur. In order to learn the truth, Ben has to undergo all the appalling and humiliating experiences that the plantation slaves routinely endure. Hambly's fiercely burning picture of the horrors of slavery inevitably overwhelms the specifics of the plot, but she evokes the period marvelously, piling detail upon detail to create a finely wrought portrait of the daily lives of slaves on the notorious Louisiana sugar plantations. And her mastery of the slave songs, the backbreaking labor of the harvest, the African-French-Creole culture and the medicine (both traditional and voodoo) is astonishing. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
The latest in Hambly's series featuring freed slave and sleuth Benjamin January is difficult to read, given its graphic depiction of the horrors of slavery. Reluctantly, January agrees to go undercover as a slave for his former owner, Simon Fourchet, to help determine who is sabotaging the cruel owner's plantation. January's motivation is not to help Fourchet, of course, but to stop the reprisals that the slaves will undergo until the guilty party is found. Hambly has done her research, and her depictions of what slaves endured in nineteenth-century New Orleans are brutally realistic. Every bit as jarring as the physical torture is the psychological abuse January must absorb from Fourchet and his despicable henchmen. Hambly effectively combines three genres--mystery, historical fiction, mainstream melodrama--in this disturbing but quite moving story. Jenny McLarin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
Her writing is as well done as I expected, the descriptions of New Orleans, the plantation, the rural areas surrounding both, are all lush and/or disturbing. The depiction of slavery itself seems spot on also, and learning some of the details of went on made it a hard read in spots, but worthwhile. Her characters are all well differentiated from each other but there are quite a few of them to keep straight, I especially had difficulty with keeping track of everyone in the plantation owner's family for awhile. Hambly is able to write tender scenes, graphically violent events and suspenseful moments with equal skill.
While the writing is excellent, the story itself is sometimes hard to swallow. One of the keys to allowing the reader suspension of disbelief is to read the cover where it says "A novel of suspense." It's not really a mystery, as the clues tend to be discovered by the reader and the protagonist at the same time, with explanations as to what the clues mean fairly quickly. The character is somewhat amazing, as other reviewers have mentioned. Many of the scenes read like an action movie. The character always manages to stumble across the major elements of the puzzle even if he's not actively looking for them. This is all more easily forgiven if you realize what kind of a novel it is. Still, it does take away some from the believability of the story which is why I can't give the novel 5 stars. Because of its realistic depiction of slavery and great writing style though, it's on my highly recommended list.
Let's call it a triple. It's not quite as good as the other ones, but it's still worth 5 stars. It is a very good novel about slavery and the effects of slavery on black individuals. Hambly portrays this very well by forcing Ben back onto the plantation, this time to find out who's trying to mess up his former master's plantation. Could it be one of the slaves, doing it despite what would happen to the other slaves if Simon Fourchet dies? Or is there a something else going on?
The plotting on this one is not quite as dense, which is a good thing. But Hambly also doesn't quite paint the atmosphere as well as she has in the previous books. Sure, you really do see the horrors that the slaves had to endure, and she does paint those scenes very well. The descriptions are well done as well. You really feel like you're in a sugar cane field, or in the heat of the mill, or whatever. However, there are fewer descriptive asides in this one, which I always found to really add to the atmosphere of the books. I loved it when she would describe life in New Orleans as Ben & Rose are walking the streets. These descriptions would rarely have anything to do with the plot, but they immersed me in the novel and the world, taking me back to New Orleans of the 1830s.
That being said, the rest of the book is a standout. The mystery is very intriguing. It doesn't have quite as many twists and turns as the previous books, but it still has some surprises left. I was going to criticize it for having another chase similar to Fever Season (or was it the first one?Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Being both a U.S. history buff and a mystery fan, I expected to love this book. I gave up after slogging through 150 pages. Read morePublished on May 13 2002
Being a US History buff, I am always eager to read historical fiction to see how well the writing exemplifies the time period in which it is set. Ms. Read morePublished on Dec 2 2001 by Linda A. Roush
As a mystery writer whose works address social themes, I greatly admire this effort by Barbara Hambly. Read morePublished on July 5 2001 by Kent Braithwaite
This Benjamin January mystery provides a smooth novel of suspense set in New Orleans and steeped with drama and tension. Read morePublished on Jan. 22 2001 by Midwest Book Review
Despite it's graphic details of the realities and humiliation of slavery, I found this book to be a very good read. It kept me guessing until the end. Read morePublished on Nov. 1 2000
Benjamin January was a slave who had been treated brutally by his former master Simon Fourchet. Fortunately for him he had been sold to another master who sent him to Paris... Read morePublished on Sept. 4 2000 by Affaire de Coeur
When January -- "stepped out into the yard straight into the midst of -------------." I gasped out loud, "Oh no" and shut the book afraid to go on reading. Read morePublished on Aug. 12 2000 by Barbara Noble
I have waited long for another Hambly book. After Dragonbane where the characters were so real and moving, to find a very complex, exciting, capable and intricate character in... Read morePublished on July 31 2000 by Jo Ann Rosenfeld