The New York Times hails Barbara Hambly's novels featuring Benjamin January as "masterly," "ravishing," and "haunting." The Chicago Tribune crowns them "dazzling...January is a wonderfully rich and complex character." Now the bestselling author returns with a story that leads January from the dangerously sensual milieu of New Orleans into a world seething with superstition and dark spirits, where one man's freedom turns on a case of murder and blood vengeance. Days of the Dead Mexico City in the autumn of 1835 is a lawless place, teeming with bandits and beggars. But an urgent letter from a desperate friend draws Benjamin January and his new bride Rose from New Orleans to this newly free province. Here they pray they'll find Hannibal Sefton alive--and not hanging from the end of a rope.Sefton stands accused of murdering the only son of prominent landowner Don Prospero de Castellon. But when Benjamin and Rose arrive at Hacienda Mictlán, they encounter a murky tangle of family relations, and more than one suspect in young Fernando's murder.
In Hambly's seventh gripping, unsettling mystery to feature free black man Benjamin January (after 2002's Wet Grave), January and his bride, Rose, leave New Orleans for Mexico in 1835. They've received an urgent plea from friend and fellow musician Hannibal Sefton (introduced in 2001's Die Upon a Kiss), who's being held by rich madman Don Prospero de Castellon. Don Prospero not only believes Sefton killed his son; he expects the victim to confirm his murderer's identity when he returns during the Day of the Dead celebrations. Thrown into the volatile mix are a merciless police chief who hates Don Prospero and his immense wealth; the young German valet who proclaimed Sefton his master's killer; Generalissimo Santa Anna, whose approaching war with the "Texians" is financed by Don Prospero; and a host of jealous and vindictive family members who are dependent upon Don Prospero for their finances and living arrangements. As in previous January mysteries, race, power, religion and sex figure prominently in the dense and intricate plot, with an abundance of historical references packed into every chapter. Hambly's Mexico is frighteningly alive, from its rampant poverty and self-serving politicians to the nation's preoccupation with and devotion to its dead. (July 1) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 26, 2004
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Excerpt from Days of the Dead by Barbara Hambly
Hacienda Mictl ' n
Outside the City of Mexico
September 16, 1835
Enclosed with this missive you'll find a draft for what I hope is sufficient money to pay your passage here by the speediest available transport. My host at the moment is being so good as to hold the minions of Justice at bay, which is quite generous of him given that I am widely supposed to have murdered his only son. Were Don Prospero de Castell ' n even marginally sane, I would probably already have been executed -- the evidence is fairly damning. By remarks the Don has made, however, I have the uncomfortable conviction that after the first of November -- the second at the latest -- he will fall in with the popular view, not that I killed the fellow, but that I deserve to be punished for the deed. In company with most of the rest of the household, he believes that young Fernando will re-visit the house, along with various other deceased relatives, at that time, the only difference between his belief and that of his daughters and their families being that he thinks he will be able to ask the murdered man outright -- and receive an answer in no uncertain terms -- about what ought best to be done with yours truly.
The local constabulary is also in fairly steady attendance. If ever I have earned your regard or affection, please come and engage in a few sleuth-hound tactics. I am at a complete loss to imagine how anyone but myself could have made quietus for young Fernando -- who certainly deserved what he got -- and if you do not prove otherwise, I shall soon be forced to begin suspecting myself. Please come. I am in fairly desperate straits, though, as I said, I believe I shall be safe enough until the Days of the Dead.
Postscriptum: I don't know whether they still garrote heretics like myself here, or hygienically shoot them as they do in the countryside. You understand that I don't really like to ask.
Benjamin January folded up his friend's letter after its perhaps seventy-fifth reading in the three weeks since its arrival on the morning of his wedding, settled back against the jolting seat of the Vera Cruz diligencia, and wondered -- again -- if he was going to make it to Mexico City alive, and if he did whether Hannibal would still be alive when he got there.
At every inn en route, the innkeepers had whispered darkly about "bandits in the mountains," prompting the passengers of the diligencia to ride with rifles cradled in their arms and pistols at their belts: their fellow-passenger Mr. Dillard of Tennessee seemed to take January going armed as a personal affront. But then, Mr. Dillard had not ceased glaring at January since the coach had pulled out of the baking, vulture-haunted streets of Vera Cruz. "You're not gonna let nigras ride inside, are you " Dillard had demanded of the driver.
"He paid for his ticket like everybody else," the driver had retorted in a nasal Yankee twang. "Something he's permitted to do in this country, which has had the courage to strike down the foul abomination of slavery ... unlike some nations which purport to be free."
"Damn Whig abolitionist," had snarled Dillard.
"Godless fleshmongering Democrat," the driver had replied.