Review

Wet Grave

by Barbara Hambly



"...(T)hey come here seeking their fortunes, but all they find is a
wet grave."

The speaker is Benjamin January, a freeman of color living in New
Orleans in the 1830s. The "they" referred to are white men, and the
"here" is the Crescent City. Although January is a fictitious
creation, his words, spoken in Barbara Hambly's WET GRAVE, are as
true now as they were in the fictitious but historical world that
January inhabits.

It is not unusual to find such accuracy in Hambly's historical
mystery novels. WET GRAVE, the sixth of her books to chronicle the
life and times of January, contains the same elements that made its
five predecessors instant classics and forever memorable:
sympathetic characters, complex and interesting plots, and perhaps
most significantly, a historical accuracy, borne of months of
research, interwoven within the descriptions of the background upon
which the characters function.

The background, as WET GRAVE opens, concerns two murders. The death
by foul play of Guifford Avacet, a wealthy plantation owner, is
cause for concern; the death of an alcoholic prostitute of color,
the former consort of a pirate, is not felt to be worth the time of
even a preemptory investigation. January, whose contact with the
woman had been remote and minimal, is nonetheless compelled to
investigate the manner and motive of her slaying. As a freeman of
color and a second-class citizen (in contrast to a slave, who
would, indeed, have no standing at all) his options are limited.
When January's investigation by happenstance uncovers a
gun-smuggling operation, it results in the death of someone close
to him. He now seeks not only justice on two fronts, but also
vengeance. January soon finds that his impromptu --- and illegal
--- investigation into the death of Avacet intersects with that of
his sometimes ally, Lieutenant Shaw of the New Orleans police, and
that the two murders are part of a larger plot that will lead to
death and destruction on the plantations in the marshes and bayous
downriver from New Orleans.

Hambly, in WET GRAVE, continues her fine work of documenting, down
to the last nuance, the culture, mores, people, and history of New
Orleans in the 1830s. Hambly's strong suits are the subtlety of her
descriptions and her ability to infuse the lives and circumstances
of her characters with a nobility in the face of difficult and
terrible situations. If the conclusion of WET GRAVE comes in a bit
too neat of a package, it is one that the faithful readers of this
series will nonetheless applaud. There is the promise of more
novels featuring January; given his dramatic change of life and
circumstance at the conclusion of WET GRAVE, it will be interesting
to see how these impact on events in future novels. For the
present, however, the six novels comprising the Benjamin January
series stand alone, and without peer, in the genre of historical
mysteries.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

Wet Grave
by Barbara Hambly

  • Publication Date: June 25, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam
  • ISBN-10: 0553109359
  • ISBN-13: 9780553109351