D. J. Donaldson Essay - Critical Essays


D. J. Donaldson’s Andy Broussard and Kit Franklyn series is in the seductive and seedy setting of New Orleans, and centers on a medical examiner and his newly hired suicide investigator/psychologist. Their relationship is very hierarchical, both in professional terms because Broussard is Franklyn’s boss and in emotional terms because he is her mentor and her protector in a world that is both male dominated and violence driven. Their relationship develops over the six novels: Broussard goes beyond the role of a mentor, becoming more parental and protective, and Franklyn suffers “growing pains” when she faces violence, death, and evil intent, and struggles to make sense of it all in the world of law enforcement.

Like the authors of many forensic-science novels, Donaldson strives to remain true to the science and stoicism of police work. He focuses on the evidence, specifically the physical and corporal detail, using it not only to determine cause of death but also to infer means and motive. Periodically, however, Donaldson takes a morbid turn, as when he writes “a dreadful array of bone and blood, sinew and skin. Through the gore, a displaced eye could be seen dangling like a spent flower.” This gruesome imagery is as much a part of the Donaldson formula as is his interest in having characters die of exotic causes and then providing detailed descriptions of the diseases’ effects.

This formula carries through to the novels written later, under the names of Don Donaldson and David Best. They also have common themes that exploit the ethical and political issues that seem to be inherent in the practice of medicine and medical research, areas with which the author is professionally familiar.

Cajun Nights

Cajun Nights (1988) is the first book in the Andy Broussard and Kit Franklyn series and definitely has one of the more intriguing plots, focusing as it does on the connection between nursery rhymes and classic cars. The modern-day mystery is interwoven with the tale of a man who was hanged in Louisiana in 1738. His dying words are repeated by one of the characters as if to explain some mysterious deaths:one day I will return and right this wrong as I did the other. And the streets of this city will run with blood as friend slays friend, fathers slay their children and rampant suicide sends the souls of men by the hundreds to everlasting hell. . . . beware the songs you loved in youth.

What seem at first to be a couple of unrelated murder-suicides are revealed as more nefarious after Franklyn investigates. Both victims owned the same rare classic car model, and both were observed to be acting strangely and singing nursery songs right before they murdered their families and then killed themselves. The story plays on the mystic past of New Orleans and creates some memorable characters in the city’s residents, but it is the investigative science that uncovers an insane legacy of revenge.

Other Broussard and Franklyn Novels

Franklyn’s expertise and maturity develop throughout the succeeding novels, with Broussard standing by to help guide her, providing sage advice and lemon drops for comfort. Blood on the Bayou (1991) exploits the legend of the loup-garou, or lycanthrope, against the backdrop of a southern plantation. It also introduces Franklyn to Teddy Labiche, who comes to play a larger role in her life in subsequent novels. No Mardi Gras for the Dead (1992) employs the unlikely weapon of a rose as a mood-altering instrument, with a would-be suitor literally falling dead at Franklyn’s feet. New Orleans Requiem (1994) draws Franklyn and Broussard into a gruesome game of scrabble with letters left on the mutilated chests of corpses. A further-reaching and insidious killer is introduced in Louisiana Fever (1996) with an ebola-like virus as a byproduct of a smuggling ring. In Sleeping with the...

(The entire section is 1614 words.)