New Orleans was a different place in the 1830s…
What is the Benjamin January series about?
Benjamin January is the main character in this series of historical murder mystery novels written by the American novelist and screenwriter Barbara Hambly.
Creole physician-he trained in Paris as a surgeon-and music teacher living in New Orleans during the 1830s, Benjamin January is a free black man who solves murder mysteries to help his friends and his community or just to save himself as the world around him is changing.
How to read the Benjamin January Books in Order?
- A Free Man of Color – It is 1833. In the midst of Mardi Gras, Benjamin January, a Creole physician and music teacher, is playing piano at the Salle d’Orleans when the evening festivities are interrupted-by murder. Ravishing Angelique Crozat, a notorious octoroon who travels in the city’s finest company, has been strangled to death. With the authorities reluctant to become involved, Ben begins his own inquiry, which will take him through the seamy haunts of riverboatmen and into the huts of voodoo-worshipping slaves.
- Fever Season – The summer of 1833 has been one of brazen heat and brutal pestilence, as the city is stalked by Bronze John-the popular name for the deadly yellow fever epidemic. Even as Benjamin January tends the dying at Charity Hospital during the steaming nights, he continues his work as a music teacher during the day. When he is asked to pass a message from a runaway slave to the servant of one of his students, January finds himself swept into a tempest of lies, greed, and murder that rivals the storms battering New Orleans.
- Graveyard Dust – It is St. John’s Eve in the summer of 1834 when Benjamin January is shattered by the news that his sister has been arrested for murder. The Guards have only a shadow of a case against her. But Olympe is a woman of color, whose chance for justice is slim. As Benjamin probes the allegation, he is targeted by a new threat: graveyard dust sprinkled at his door, whispering of a voodoo death curse.
- Sold Down the River – When slave owner Simon Fourchet asks Benjamin January to investigate sabotage, arson, and murder on his plantation, January is reluctant to do any favors for the savage man who owned him until he was seven. But he knows too well that plantation justice means that if the true culprit is not found, every slave on Mon Triomphe will suffer. Abandoning his Parisian French for the African patois of a field hand, cutting cane until his bones ache and his musician’s hands bleed, Benjamin must use all his intelligence and cunning to find the killer…
- Die upon a Kiss – In February 1835, the cold New Orleans streets are alight with masked Mardi Gras revelers as the American Theater’s impresario, Lorenzo Belaggio, brings a magnificent yet controversial operatic version of Othello to town. But it’s pitch-black in the alley where Benjamin January hears a slurred whisper, spies the flash of a knife, and is himself wounded as he rescues Belaggio from a vicious attack. Could competition for audiences provoke such violent skulduggery? Or is Shakespeare’s tragic tale, with its spectacle of a black man’s passion for a white beauty, one that some Creole citizen would do anything to keep off the stage?
- Wet Grave – It’s 1835 and the relentless glare of the late July sun has slowed New Orleans to a standstill. When Hesione LeGros–once a corsair’s jeweled mistress, now a raddled hag–is found slashed to death in a shanty on the fringe of New Orleans’s most lawless quarter, there are few to care. But one of them is Benjamin January. He well recalls her blazing ebony beauty when she appeared at a demimonde banquet years ago. Who would want to kill this woman now had some quarrelsome “customer” decided to do away with her? Or could it be one of the sexual predators who roamed the dark and seedy streets?
- Days of the Dead – Mexico City in the autumn of 1835 is a lawless place, teeming with bandits and beggars. But an urgent letter from a desperate friend draws Benjamin January and his new bride Rose from New Orleans to this newly free province. Here they pray they’ll find Hannibal Sefton alive-and not hanging from the end of a rope. Sefton stands accused of murdering the only son of prominent landowner Don Prospero de Castellon. But when Benjamin and Rose arrive at Hacienda Mictlán, they encounter a murky tangle of family relations, and more than one suspect in young Fernando’s murder.
- Dead Water – Nineteenth-century New Orleans is a blazing hotbed of scorching politics and personal vendettas. And it’s into this fire that Benjamin January falls when he is hired to follow Oliver Weems, a bank official who has absconded with $100,000 in gold and securities. But it’s more than just a job for January. The missing money is vital to the survival of the school for freed slaves that he and his wife Rose have founded. Following the suspected embezzler onto the steamboat Silver Moon, January, Rose, and Hannibal Sefton are sworn to secrecy about the crime until they can find the trunks containing the stolen loot. And then the unexpected happens: Weems is found murdered.
- Dead and Buried – New Orleans, 1836. When Benjamin January attends the funeral of a friend, an accident tips the dead man out of his coffin – only to reveal an unexpected inhabitant. Just one person recognizes the corpse of the white man: Hannibal Sefton, fiddle-player and one of January’s closest friends. But he seems unwilling to talk about his connection to the dead man…
- The Shirt On His Back – Abishag Shaw is seeking vengeance for his brother’s murder – and Benjamin January is seeking money after his bank crashes. Far beyond the frontier, in the depths of the Rocky Mountains, both are to be found at the great Rendezvous of the Mountain Men: a month-long orgy of cheap booze, shooting matches, tall tales, and cut-throat trading. But at the rendezvous, the discovery of a corpse opens the door to hints of a greater plot, of madness and wholesale murder…
- Ran Away – So began a score of advertisements every week in the New Orleans newspapers, advertising for slaves who’d fled their masters. But the Turk, Hüseyin Pasha, posted no such advertisement when his two lovely concubines disappeared. And when a witness proclaimed he’d seen the “devilish infidel” hurl their dead bodies out of a window, everyone was willing to believe him the murderer. Only Benjamin January, who knows the Turk of old, is willing to seek the true culprit, endangering his own life in the process…
- Good Man Friday – New Orleans, 1838. When Benjamin January suddenly finds that his services playing piano at extravagant balls held by the city’s wealthy are no longer required, he ends up agreeing to accompany sugar planter Henri Viellard and his young wife, Chloë, on a mission to Washington to find a missing friend. Plunged into a murky world, it soon becomes clear that while it is very possible the Viellards’ friend is dead, his enemies are very much alive – and ready to kill anyone who gets in their way.
- Crimson Angel – When Jefferson Vitrack – the white half-brother of Benjamin January’s wife – turns up on January’s doorstep in the summer of 1838 claiming he has discovered a clue to the whereabouts of the family’s lost treasure, January has no hesitation about refusing to help look for it. For the treasure lies in Haiti, the island that was once France’s most profitable colony. The world’s only Black Republic still looks with murderous mistrust upon any strangers who might set foot there, and January is in no hurry to go. But when Vitrack is murdered, and attempts are made on January’s wife and himself, he understands that he has no choice.
- Drinking Gourd – Benjamin January is called up to Vicksburg, deep in cotton-plantation country, to help a wounded “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. When the chief “conductor” of the “station” is found murdered, Jubal Cain – the coordinator of the whole Railroad system in Mississippi – is accused of the crime. Since Cain can’t expose the nature of his involvement in the railroad, January has to step in and find the true killer, before their covers are blown.
- Murder in July – When British spymaster Sir John Oldmixton offers Benjamin January a hundred dollars to find the murderer of an Englishman whose body has been found floating in the New Basin Canal, Benjamin turns him down immediately. As a free man of color in New Orleans in the sweltering July of 1839, he knows this is not something he should get mixed up in. But when clues to the dead man’s identity link the death to another murder, in another July in January’s past, he is reluctantly drawn into the investigation.
- Cold Bayou – New Orleans, 1839. Despite his misgivings, Benjamin January has agreed to play the piano at the wedding of wealthy French Creole landowner Veryl St-Chinian. All is not well, for the marriage of 67-year-old, profoundly infatuated Uncle Veryl to an 18-year-old Irish tavern-slut spells potential disaster for everyone in the inter-married Viellard and St-Chinian clans. But the old man is determined to marry Miss Ellie Trask, and nothing will stand in his way. On the isolated plantation of Cold Bayou where the ceremony is to take place, tension is rife even before the body is discovered in the woods behind the dower house, its throat cut. A yet more disturbing turn of events sees January himself accused of the crime…
- Lady of Perdition – April, 1840. Benjamin January knows no black person in their right mind would willingly go to the Republic of Texas but when his former pupil Selina Bellinger is kidnapped and enslaved, he has no choice. Once there he is saved from being hanged by Valentina Taggart, wife of the wealthy landowner of Rancho Perdition. After Valentina is accused of the murder of her husband, she in turn calls on Benjamin for help. To do so, he must abandon the safe haven of New Orleans, where people know he’s a free man, to return to the self-proclaimed “Slaveholders’ Republic”.
- House of the Patriarch – New Orleans, 1840. Freshly home from a dangerous journey, that last thing Benjamin January wants to do is leave his wife and young sons again. But when old friends Henri and Chloe Viellard ask for his help tracking down a missing girl in distant New York, he can’t say no. Three weeks ago, seventeen-year-old Eve Russell boarded a steam boat – and never got off it. Mrs. Russell is adamant Eve’s been kidnapped, but how could someone remove a teenager from a crowded deck in broad daylight? And why would anyone target Eve?
- Death and Hard Cider – September, 1840. A giant rally is being planned in New Orleans to stir up support for presidential candidate William Henry Harrison: the Indian-killing, hard-cider-drinking, wannabe “people’s president”. Trained surgeon turned piano-player Benjamin January has little use for politicians. But the run-up to the rally is packed with balls and dinner parties, and the meager pay is sorely needed.
If you like Benjamin January, you may also want to check out the Simon Serrailler Series or the Sebastian St. Cyr series. Don’t hesitate to follow us on Twitter or Facebook to discover more book series.