**The French Detective: A Novel of New Orleans in 1900

New Orleans, French Quarter

(photo: David Ohmer, Creative Commons license)

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.

Freelance Editing Services Booming?

red pencil, grammar, comma

(photo: Martijn Nijenhuls, Creative Commons license)

Is there a bit of wishful thinking behind Simon Owens’s article from Mediashift on how self-publishing has been great for freelance designers and editors? I read so much—even real books with covers and an actual publisher—that clearly escaped a firm editorial hand and would have benefited from one. Self-publishing, he says, has created “a rising need for the kind of editors who offered the feedback that could be found at traditional publishing houses.” Recently, I bit the bullet and sent the manuscript of one of my novels to a freelance editor who specializes in mysteries and thrillers—and is an award-winning mystery author in her own right. It was one of the best writing decisions I’ve made. A terrific experience.

Perhaps Owens hopes his words will encourage more editors to enter the author support services field. The numbers are certainly there: An estimated 3,500 new books are published every day in the United States, not including ebooks. This estimate is based on the number of new ISBN numbers, which many ebook authors don’t bother to obtain. The first response to this need was a deluge of unqualified or barely qualified editors and designers, overpriced services of marginal value, and discouragement and frustration among authors. If an editor is not well qualified (including familiarity with genre considerations) or if the author is unwilling to make changes, an expensive and frustrating experience is in store.

If the numbers are there, the dollars may not be. The majority of self-published authors make less than $5,000 a year on their writing. Even established writers (i.e., members of the Authors Guild) are earning 24% less from their writing now versus five years ago, says a new survey.

The acute need for author support services and the highly variable quality of what was out there led to development of invaluable websites like Reedsy and Writer Beware. These sites are true author advocates—pointing out bad actors, scams, and other traps laid for those hopeful souls who say, “I just want to write. I don’t care about all this businessy stuff.”

Owens’s sources say competition among books actually requires “more emphasis on producing a professional product, both in design and editorial standards” and, I’d add, faith that the audience knows the difference, for which evidence is scant. And, of course, if an author isn’t looking to self-publish, a solidly edited product is essential for attracting agents and traditional publishers.

Two reputable-sounding sources for editorial assistance cited by Owens are Reedsy and New York Book Editors, whose freelancers generally are former employees of traditional New York publishing houses. Ideally, says freelance editor Rebecca Heyman, “There should be no gap in quality between independently-published work and traditionally-published work.”