***Casting Bones

mardi-gras mask, New Orleans

photo: Larry Johnson, creative commons license

By Don Bruns – This is the first of a new series of police procedurals set in what the publisher calls “one of the most fascinating cities in the world: New Orleans.” Bruns—with five books in his Caribbean series and seven in the popular “Stuff” series—delights in the Big Easy’s atmosphere and culture in creating his backdrops, colorful cast of characters, and the shenanigans that take place. It’s a story that could take place only there, which is a real plus—like a visit without all the calories.

Disgraced former Detroit police detective Quentin Archer has relocated to Nawlins to restart his career. His ability to stay in Detroit floundered when he fingered a fellow Motor City cop—and, by the way, his two policeman brothers—for drug dealing. Suffice it to say, he’s a man who has to watch his back.

His interpersonal relations aren’t that much better in his new job. He can’t trust his partner, who admits to selling information about cases to unknown parties, and the mercurial sergeant in charge overtly dislikes the Detroit man. In the way of supervisors everywhere, he can make Archer’s life miserable and does.

When the body of a New Orleans juvenile court judge is found floating in the Mississippi River, the principal question on Archer’s mind is, Why? Why shoot Judge David Lerner? Was it because of his notoriously harsh sentences? Or did it have to do with the mysterious printouts found in the back of his Jag? Before any of these questions can be answered, in a bit of piling on,  two more judges are dead—one in a strange, possibly staged, motor vehicle accident, and the other in a mugging-gone-wrong.

In true New Orleans style, at least as much is hidden as is revealed. It’s as if the murky waters of the muddy Mississippi obscure the vision of the entire town, and no one seems to want the truth. Meanwhile, his partner—with the connivance of the higher-ups concerned about tourism—is on the verge of railroading a young black kitchen worker for Lerner’s death. Archer has only days to come up with an alternative scenario that sticks.

He finds help from an unusual ally when he encounters Solange Cordray, the beautiful daughter of a voodoo priestess. Because this is a multiple point-of-view novel, you read Cordray’s interpretation of events as well as Archer’s, his partner’s, and others’. It’s clear that her special knowledge of events past and future is not a cynical fabrication, and that, although what she perceives as messages from the spirits is not always clear, she sincerely believes them.

Some loose ends, especially regarding Archer’s Detroit woes, are not totally tied up by this book’s end, suggesting sequels to come. The publisher under-invested in proofreading, but, bottom line, this is a fast-paced read with great atmosphere and interesting characters and situations.