Review

Die Upon a Kiss

by Barbara Hambly



My business requires me to spend a lot of time in New Orleans. I've
never really subscribed to the premise that there can be too much
of a good thing, but once I'm ready to leave, I'm usually ready to
go, and by the time I need to go back, I'm usually beginning to
miss the place. The balance of this is upset, however, on an annual
basis with the appearance, normally in June or July, of a new
Benjamin January novel by Barbara Hambly.

These novels --- the latest, DIE UPON A KISS, being the fifth in
the series --- are set in the New Orleans of the 1830s and take
place primarily in the French Quarter. The Quarters haven't changed
much since the time in which Hambly's novels are set, and any
number of the places that serve as a backdrop to the January novels
are still around. Hambly's books are so well-written and researched
that it is almost impossible to resist the urge to drop everything
and make the excursion to the Crescent City, to walk down the
less-traveled streets of the Quarters while turning the pages of
her latest books and tracing January's footsteps.

DIE UPON A KISS is no exception. Hambly has chosen with this novel
to focus more on January's prowess as a musician, as a plot vehicle
for moving the tale through early New Orleans. January, a free man
of color who is a physician and musician, is a member of the
orchestra that has been assembled by legendary impresario Lorenzo
Belaggio, who has brought the first Italian opera to New Orleans.
January, leaving the American Theater after a late rehearsal,
stumbles into an attack upon Belaggio and is able to adroitly
rescue him. The investigation of the attack does not suffer for
lack of suspects. There are two of the tenors in the company, who
certainly have motive and opportunity. There is the manager of a
rival New Orleans' opera company, for whom Belaggio's arrival on
the local scene comes at a most inopportune time. And, of course,
there are the two points on the love triangle between Belaggio and
the two sopranos in the company. Or is the attack something else
entirely?

Hambly's January series is much, much more than a set of detective
novels. Hambly, with incremental steps, has been fashioning a
treatise of the history and culture of New Orleans in the early
1830s and slipping it to her audience by osmosis. While her novels
stand alone, quite well, as detective novels, they also provide a
fascinating historical perspective into a time and place that was
quite unique and whose customs and mores resonate within New
Orleans and influence it to this very moment. Hambly, at the same
time, is able to very nimbly introduce enough of the backstory from
previous January novels into each new one so that readers new to
the series will not feel lost and adrift but will rather be
encouraged not only to read the new novel but also to pick up on
what has gone before. Any one of these accomplishments would be
significant for a writer; Hambly quite handily accomplishes all of
them. DIE UPON A KISS hopefully will continue to enlarge Hambly's
already significant audience.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

Die Upon a Kiss
by Barbara Hambly

  • Publication Date: June 19, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553109243
  • ISBN-13: 9780553109245