From the publication of her first mystery, Death Turns a Trick, in 1982, Julie Smith displayed her ability to create suspenseful narratives while entertaining readers with her tongue-in-cheek assessment of the contemporary social scene. In addition to satisfying the intellectual curiosity of those who enjoy a good “ whodunit,” the books featuring Rebecca Schwartz and Paul McDonald exposed the vulnerable underside of the supposedly carefree San Francisco singles lifestyle in the 1980’s.
Beginning with the publication of New Orleans Mourning (1990), the novels set in the Crescent City reflect Smith’s development as a literary artist. Like her contemporary James Lee Burke, she makes exceptionally good use of the south Louisiana setting as a means of communicating insights into human character and social relationships. An admirer of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, Smith incorporates elements of southern Gothic in her character portraits while maintaining exceptional command over her intricate and well-developed plots. Through the stories of her two female protagonists from New Orleans, one a member of high society who feels alienated from her peers, the other a young African American, Smith is able to examine issues that remain problematic for American society, specifically sexism and racism. Her finest works demonstrate that it is possible to construct a sophisticated novel of social commentary within the framework of the detective thriller.