Fever Season

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Like the reference in Barbara Hambly’s first novel, A FREE MAN OF COLOR (1997), Benjamin January, the main character of FEVER SEASON, is a black who, along with his mother and sisters, is free in the Creole slave economy of the early 1800’s in New Orleans.

January (or “Janvier” in the French spoken at the time) has returned to the city after a long sojourn in Europe, where he became a surgeon and a pianist, as well as a widower. He earns his living mostly by giving piano lessons to the children, and playing at the parties of rich Creoles, and partly by nursing cholera victims in the city’s hospitals.

He soon becomes involved in solving a crime as intricate as the society it occurs in. In trying to clear a runaway slave, Cora Chouteau, of the murder of her owner, Otis Redfern, January discovers addenda to the case which, despite the help of Abishag Shaw, a police lieutenant, and despite his status as a freedman, endanger his life.

Redfern has not only gambled away his plantation, but he made, it turns out, Cora his mistress. When he is poisoned, the likeliest suspects revealed by January’s inquiry are Redfern’s wife Emily, who hated him; Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen of New Orleans; Micajah Dunk, a preacher, an entrepreneur, and an ally of Emily Redfern, if not her lover; and Redfern himself, whose wife’s death would have dissolved the trust which protects her own property from him.

Early on, Cora...

(The entire section is 452 words.)