Book 7 of the 12 in 12 Challenge for January is an historical novel and one of a series by Barbara Hambly. This is also her book 7 and is called Days of the Dead. It is set in the early nineteenth century and features Benjamin January, a black man who was a slave but was freed when his mother became the mistress of a white man. Ben lives in New Orleans and is permanently in fear of being captured and enslaved again by unscrupulous plantation owners. He has trained as a doctor in France but following the death of his wife has returned to America to eke out a living as a musician and music teacher. In this book, following a plea from a friend, he and his very new wife travel to Mexico to try and save his friend from an accusation of murder.
I have read and enjoyed most of the books in this series but I particularly enjoyed this one. Some of it is because the author takes the characters away from their normal setting and there are a new range of challenges for them but mostly because of the situation she creates in Mexico. Ben’s friend Hannibal has been accused of murder by a rich man who is a supporter of the revolutionary Santa Anna. The country has virtually no laws and power and wealth are what is important. Ben may no longer be in fear of enslavement but he is now in fear that anything he says or does may have enormous repercussions for his wife and friend.
The solution to the murder is very clever and so is how Ben and his wife escape those who would silence him. Rose is a particularly good character, being a woman of dual heritage background who seeks to learn and teach and who has been ill-treated because of her colour – she is a very sensible woman and the love between the two is tender and well portrayed.
I recommend this series if you haven’t read it. Start with A Free Man of Colour. I haven’t read any other crime novels set in this time and place and I think that the author is excellent at conveying atmosphere and especially fear. She also writes fantasy novels which I think are very well done.