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A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly
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A Free Man of Color (original 1997; edition 1997)

by Barbara Hambly

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6162115,724 (3.92)2 / 131
Member:PhaedraB
Title:A Free Man of Color
Authors:Barbara Hambly
Info:New York : Bantam Books, 1997.
Collections:Read but unowned
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A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly (1997)

Recently added byprivate library, kcanderson, a.happy.booker, MrsLee, Jarandel, Sakerfalcon, bookgirlwa, Dureo, sawtooth
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Benjamin January is a free man, of color, in the 1930's. He has been in France, completed a medical degree, and is an accomplished musician. Therefore, it is quite a shock for him when he returns to his native New Orleans and the changes in attitude which have occurred in the twenty years he has been away. In spite of his education, he must earn his living as a music tutor and a piano player. When he is present at a ball where a prominent woman of questionable repute is murdered, and it becomes apparent that he was the last person known to see her alive, he realizes just how precarious his freedom and respect is. Now he must unearth the true killer and hope it isn't a white man to keep his own head out of a noose.

This book is a good mystery, the clues were there for the reader, but one had to work for them. The distractions and red herrings were well done. I am glad to have read this, because it is informative of a time and place and culture which is very foreign to me. However, it did feel like a bit of a slog. There was so much information which needed to be conveyed so the reader would be able to have even a glimpse into that time, place and the people there. I found it all so, so dark, looking into the morass of the human heart. That desire which is always present to find someone who is weaker than yourself to put down. It is very ugly, and overwhelmed me to the point that the story was painful. So, I can't say I enjoyed this book. I will say that it seems well researched and is well written, the story and characters are well drawn, and I would recommend it to anyone who didn't already struggle with depression over the human condition. ( )
1 vote MrsLee | Mar 16, 2014 |
This book is the first in the Benjamin January series. It is a historical mystery set in 19th-Century New Orleans.

When a beautiful, but viscious octoroon is murdered, January, a free black piano player/surgeon is the primary suspect, and when officials don't seem much interested in clearing him, he investigates the murdser on his own. He also covers for a pretty, young widow who was a former piano student, sticking his neck out and putting his own life at risk. ( )
  bookwoman247 | Sep 28, 2013 |
Meh. Meh. Meh. I really thought I would like this book; but turns out I just about hated it. The writing is excellent; but I don't like the setting or the characters. I may try this as an audiobook. ( )
  lesmel | May 16, 2013 |
This is the first in a series that I will definitely be following. The POV character here is Benjamin January, the "free man of color" of the title. The main character, however, is New Orleans. I spent some time there when I was younger, and loved the French Quarter, the music, the food, and the culture. It's clear to me that the author, who lives there part of each year, also loves it. She has dug deep in the unique local history and culture, and written a book about a place and time that are magic.

1830s NOLA is a great setting. The city was only recently annexed by the US, and the new influx of Americans are changing the culture of the city. For January, these changes are all for the worse. He grew up in a world of creoles, French settlers, aristocratic refugees from Haiti/Santo Domingo, and Spanish grandees who have been there for generations. Their ties and interests are to Paris, where the wealthy send their children and do their shopping, not to the rest of the continent they are inhabiting. (Trivia: Josephine, empress of Napoleon Bonaparte, was a creole aristocrat.) Their comparatively tolerant racial attitudes (color matters, a lot) is being supplanted by the American assumption that all blacks are slaves, or should be. For the first time in his life, he has to carry papers showing that he is a free person, and if a white person should tear up the papers, his freedom will evaporate. Naturally he, and the rest of the colored population resent this, just as the long-time inhabitants resent the encroachment of the boorish and uncivilized Americans, who have no culture, only money.

Hambly has used the setting as the backdrop of a murder. The mystery is well-plotted, and her writing is excellent. I'm not giving this 5 stars because the human characters are less well developed than the city, but I'm hoping that changes as the series develops. ( )
  teckelvik | Dec 31, 2012 |
A little too much description gets in the way of the plot occasionally, but I enjoyed it and am looking foward to trying the next in the series. ( )
  alyson | Aug 23, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Hamblyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Seder, JasonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Had Cardinal Richelieu not assaulted the Mohican Princess, thrusting her up against the brick wall of the carriageway and forcing her mouth with his kisses, Benjamin January probably wouldn't have noticed anything amiss later on.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553575260, Mass Market Paperback)

In Barbara Hambly's rich and poignant thriller, it's 1833 and Ben January--a man of mixed blood making his living as a musician because he's not allowed to practice surgery--is back home in New Orleans after years of freedom in Paris. Trying to walk a caste line more complicated than India's, January risks his precarious position to investigate the killing of a young woman who--like his own younger, lighter half-sister--is the mistress of a wealthy white man. What has changed most in New Orleans while Ben was away is the influence of the white Americans: rough, ignorant, instinctively racist. Only one of these--a policeman named Abishag Shaw--seems to understand that January is at least as smart and valuable as he is, and even he at times appears to be ready to side with the white majority and pin the crime on Ben.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:54 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"A romantic suspense novel set in 19th century New Orleans. 'Benjamin January, a free Creole with dark brown skin, has returned to this society after living in Paris for more than a decde. He is trained as a surgeon, but in Louisiana, he makes his living playing the piano. Soon he is the main suspect in the death of a wealthy man's young mistress, found murdered at a ball. January spends the rest of the book gathering evidence in his defense.'" Libr J. "A few suspenseful moments not-withstanding, this isn't an action-packed or suspenseful whodunit. Rather, it's a richly detailed, telling portrait of an intricately structured racial hierarchy." Booklist.… (more)

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