By O’Neil De Noux – A jambalaya of factors go into a reader’s enjoyment of a crime novel, and this one is definitely a (mostly) flavorful mix. De Noux has selected a time and place ripe for drama. New Orleans is consistently intriguing on many levels, most particularly for its diversity of strong cultures stewing together in the oppressive Louisiana heat. The time period, the turn of the last century, is filled with dramatic possibility, because of the city’s changing demographics and because of the real-life occurrence of the Robert Charles race riots, which De Noux draws into his story.
The challenges to New Orleans Police Detective Jacques Dugas begin when a four-year-old boy is kidnapped from the city’s Vieux Carré, at this point in its history an Italian and Sicilian district. Mostly recent immigrants, the residents have little use for the police and cooperation is scant, even when Dugas has the volunteer translating assistance of glamorous young Evelyn Dominici—Italian-speaking daughter of a Corsican jeweler and an English Lady. The Corsican is a New Orleans resident, but Lady Evelyn’s mother lives in England, ensconced in a drafty castle with her lover.
Dugas and his translator, rapidly falling for each other and flirting outrageously, pursue the many potential leads in the case until the investigation is derailed by the riots. The book is populated with white supremacists, Italian citizens committees, Sicilian mafia, Irish cops, and, always at the fringes, the blacks and the poor. Jambalaya. One delicious aspect of the book is how often Dugas, Evelyn Dominici, and their colleagues must stop to eat. Reading this book is enough to make the reader put on five pounds by literary osmosis.
Yet all is not well-served in this literary endeavor. This is a self-published book, which to me means the author-as-publisher takes on extra responsibilities. While De Noux attempts to absolve himself from any errors via a note saying “If you found a typo or two in the book, please don’t hold it against us. We are a small group of volunteers . . .” There are many, many more than a typo or two. The writer’s role, as John Gardner had it, is to create a fictional dream in which writer and reader are co-conspirators. Keep the dream going, and the reader continues to believe in the story created. Tyops wake you up.
Such lack of attention cannot help but make the reader wonder about the care expended on plot, characterization, and other literary matters. In this book, the plot raced hither and yon so often, I occasionally lost the thread, and it left loose ends (who wrote all those notes?). The character of Evelyn was, to me, unbelievable in her liberated attitudes for a woman of that era and an English Lady, no less. Nor was the attention devoted to the attractiveness of her figure interesting on a sustained basis.
Nevertheless, I actually enjoyed this book on its own terms, as a window into a pivotal time in one of America’s most fascinating cities.
A longer version of this review is available here on the Crime Fiction Lover website.