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Wet Grave [Hardcover]

Barbara Hambly
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 25 2002
In such stunning novels of crime and character as Die Upon a Kiss, Sold Down the River, and A Free Man of Color, Benjamin January tracked down killers through the sensuous, atmospheric, dangerously beautiful world of Old New Orleans. Now, in this new novel by bestselling author Barbara Hambly, he follows a trail of murder from illicit back alleys to glittering mansions to a dark place where the oldest and deadliest secrets lie buried . . .

Wet Grave

It’s 1835 and the relentless glare of the late July sun has slowed New Orleans to a standstill. When Hesione LeGros--once a corsair’s jeweled mistress, now a raddled hag--is found slashed to death in a shanty on the fringe of New Orleans’s most lawless quarter, there are few to care. But one of them is Benjamin January, musician and teacher. He well recalls her blazing ebony beauty when she appeared, exquisitely gowned and handy with a stiletto, at a demimonde banquet years ago.

Who would want to kill this woman now--Hessy, they said, would turn a trick for a bottle of rum--had some quarrelsome “customer” decided to do away with her? Or could it be one of the sexual predators who roamed the dark and seedy streets? Or--as Benjamin comes to suspect--was her killer someone she knew, someone whose careful search of her shack suggests a cold-blooded crime? Someone whose boot left a chillingly distinctive print . . .

His inquiries at taverns, markets, and slave dances reveal little about “Hellfire Hessy” since her glory days in Barataria Bay, once the lair of gentlemen pirates. Then the murder is swept from his mind by the delivery of a crate filled with contraband rifles--and yet another telltale boot print left by its claimant. When a murder swiftly follows, Ben and Rose Vitrac, the woman he loves, fear the workings of a serpentine mind and a treacherous plot: one only they can hope to thwart in time.

All too soon they are fugitives of color in the stormy bayous and marshes of slave-stealer country, headed for smugglers’ haunts and sinister plantations, where one false step could be their last toward a...Wet Grave.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

After an excruciatingly slow start, Hambly's sixth novel featuring Benjamin January (after 2001's Die Upon a Kiss) builds to hurricane force as the former slave and Creole surgeon looks into the murder of a drunken whore whom no one seems to care about. Despite his education and musical and medical accomplishments, January is only a short, catastrophic step up from bottom in the oddly stratified society of 1830s New Orleans. January proceeds as carefully with his investigation as he does with his wooing of Rose Vitrac, whose traumatic past he only partially knows and understands. Only when another murder strikes much closer to January's home and heart does the pace quicken. To a desire for vengeance is added a thirst for justice. Still cautious, but steeled by anger, January goes on a search that will lead beyond the fetid city into the surrounding bayous, swamps and islands. When the author hits her stride, the tension ratchets up to an almost unbearable level until the violence of man and the violence of nature are both unleashed. Hambly is terrifically effective in her portrayal of the squalid lives of the poor and enslaved and the contrasting opulence of the wealthy. The beautiful New Orleans of the future can only be glimpsed in the scrofulous, swampy, sewer-like summer heat that pervades everything. Hambly's strong and unusual series tracking a largely unexplored period of American history should continue to please fans and attract new readers.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

New Orleans: July 1835. An elderly black woman, a free citizen, is found murdered. Is her death somehow connected to the notorious Jean Lafite and the gold he's said to have secreted away? Or could she have been killed so that two of New Orleans' wealthiest families could finalize their union? And can Benjamin January, the professional musician and amateur sleuth, find out whodunit before the killer strikes again? This is the sixth January novel, and like the previous installments, it's a splendid historical mystery. Hambly appears to know the period inside out; her depiction of New Orleans' contradictions--beauty and squalor side by side--is almost visceral in its detail. As with any good historical mystery, we are at least as captivated by the characters, dialogue, and environment as we are with the mystery itself. Benjamin January, a free black man in a society that regards black men as second class, is an original, exciting character. Series fans will be thrilled with his new adventure and will eagerly anticipate the next. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This entry in the Benjamein January series is another winner. It does start out a little slow, but Barbara needs time to set the scene for her books. She immerses her readers so completely in her era and genre, that it's sometimes hard to surface to the modern world once beginning her books. Even though the book starts a bit slow, it builds to explosive force about half-way through and doesn't let up right until the end. Ms. Hambly's writing is absolutely dazzling, and Benjamin and his Rose are so real, that it's hard to believe that it's only fiction. The book takes place in the summer of 1835 and the main part of the action is set in some of the islands located around New Orleans. In it Ben and Rose are trying to stop a slave revolt. As they both know, everyone loses if slaves revolt. In the book we see gun runners, pirates, a hurricane and some old diseases that no longer are such a threat to humanity. This is a magically rich and poignant tale, and one of the strongest entries in this already strong series. Each book seems better than the one preceeding.
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4.0 out of 5 stars more Shaw please! May 30 2003
By A Customer
For those who are not familiar with the series, it is set in New Orleans in the 1830s and the mysteries revolve around a free man of color (the title of the first in the series), Benjamin January. Ben is a surgeon and a musician and makes his living in New Orleans as a piano teacher and player.
In this story, a woman (former placee) is murdered and the local police don't have time to investigate as a plantation owner has been killed. Angered by the lack of justice, Ben decides to investigate on his own.
The story is excellent. I just would like to see more of my favorite characters, Shaw, Hannibal and Olympe. I wasn't a big fan of Rose (Ben's girlfriend) but she seemed to get a little better in this episode. Also the addition of Henri's wife Chloe seems like it will be a good one.
What I particularly liked was that I didn't have to understand French or be familiar with opera or be a history buff to get it! I also didn't did to create a character reference to keep everyone straight.
On the downside, the descriptions of New Orleans and the narrative is just not as well done as in the first novel in this series.
But I love the series and can't wait for the next one.
I recommend!
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5.0 out of 5 stars no decline in quality March 18 2003
I don't quite understand why mystery seems to be the only genre where prolific authors can keep a series from degrading after 7 or 12 or 20 books -- not always, of course, but at least it seems to be possible. Hambly is one of those, and five books in, Ben January has lost none of his thoughtful carefulness. As a previous reviewer has remarked, Hambly is not known for making her characters' lives easy, but Ben's is just far enough from desperation to keep him from lapsing into sodden unthinking despair, while keeping him always tuned to the dangers in a rapidly changing city. The end seems a wee bit unlikeyl (I'm not there yet; I peeped) but I think it may be the only way Hambly could take her characters where she wants them to go next. I'm eager to see where that is. She's left the series wide open for sequels, tales of the next generation, or even prequels of Ben's life in Paris, in the War or 1812, or earlier.
I think I like mysteries more for the backstory and characterization than for the puzzle, but this one should appeal to mystery fans of either sort, as well as history buffs and those who can see a good novel even cloaked in a genre package.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A banquet brawl is a slow start? Nov. 5 2002
Yes, it takes awhile to get to the danger, but the scenes of New Orleans and Benjamin January's lives are so rich that I didn't care. As usual, I was taken by the contrast among the lives of Ben and his sisters. Dominique, pregnant and in love with her protector, Henri, has her lifestyle threatened by Henri's marriage to a young lady of icy reputation. The bride sold her own nurse! Can such a she-monster be expected to let Henri spend time with and money on his lovely placee? If you thought Olympe was the strong sister and Minou only a pampered weakling, this book will change your mind.
I loved seeing Ben and Rose's relationship progress. Since this is a Barbara Hambly book, you can't expect them to go through gunfire, fire, and a hurricane with just a few scratches, but it isn't all bad, thank goodness.
Hellfire Hessy's murder made me feel sad that so much of her life was wasted, but the second murder is even worse. Remember the old phrase, "Hanging's too good fer them?" Apply that to the killers.
Better take mental notes because some of the information that you might suspect is just local color isn't. It *will* make sense later. That includes the pirate lore, which was fascinating in its own right.
Abishag Shaw (what kind of parents named their son for one of King David's concubines???) is still sharp and sharp shooting. It's nice to see the Long Arm of the Law actually respect the amateur detective. It's also nice that he's not stupid.
I still have to laugh that the publisher of Ms. Hambly's mysteries is being so cagey about not mentioning her fantasy writing. I have plenty of friends and relatives who read both genres. I suspect we're hardly alone in that.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars All This and Pirates. Too.
I loved this book and literally could not put it down. The start is a bit confusing, but the mastery with which Hambly constructed her final batttle between good and evil - with... Read more
Published on Nov. 18 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Addition
This is a pleasant addition to one of my favorite series. After so many disappointments lately finding consistent quality in books by some of my favorite authors it is refreshing... Read more
Published on Oct. 12 2002 by plum9195
5.0 out of 5 stars GETS BETTER AND BETTER
Barbara Hambly's unique series, set in post-Civil War south continues to emerge as one of the best series out there. Read more
Published on Sept. 5 2002 by Michael Butts
5.0 out of 5 stars Swimmin' through the bayous
I have been a big fan of the Benjamin January series, written by Barbara Hambly, ever since the beginning. Read more
Published on Aug. 30 2002 by David Roy
5.0 out of 5 stars Okay, I've changed my mind....
I just re-read this book, having read it for the first time last summer, and wasn't as thrilled with it then as I am now. I've changed my mind. It is truly fabulous. Read more
Published on Aug. 1 2002 by Sophia
5.0 out of 5 stars She's done it again!
I haven't been reading much since 9/11, I was right across the street, but when I saw the new Ben January book was out, I knew I'd be reading again. Read more
Published on July 11 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Each one is better
When I read the first book in her Benjamin January series, I thought the great descriptions and information about New Orleans in the 1830s made up for what I considered plot... Read more
Published on July 10 2002 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Benjamin January yet...
I have been reading this series faithfully. I believe this one, so full of all the regular characters (save one), once more saturated in the New Orleans culture of the early... Read more
Published on July 9 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant, as usual
When it comes to historical mysteries, I'm pretty much an Anglophile. However, Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series is definitely one of my favourites. Read more
Published on July 9 2002 by tregatt
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