Sunday, July 12, 2009

Off Topic Novel---One From The Big Easy, Circa 1900

Chasing the Devil's Tail: A Mystery of Storyville, New Orleans, David Fulmer, Harcourt Press, 2002, 335pp, $14.00 paperback.

CWL spent a week in New Orleans and while wandering through Bourbon Street, the World War II and the History of Mardi Gras museums an historical detective series jogged his memory. Something published in 2001 or 2002 and set in turn of the 1900s Storyville section in New Orleans. Tracking down a $5 copy of >Chasing the Devil's Tail: A Mystery of Storyville, New Orleansin a bookstore near Jackson Square, it seemed to be the time to start a new detective series set in a city where some time was being killed.

Chasing the Devil's Tail: A Mystery of Storyville, New Orleans, has going for it: 1.) the first in a long running series, 2) a detective mystery of sex, alcohol, drugs, insanity and murder, 3) a tri-racial detective, and 4) corrupt politicians and churchmen. Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr isn't comfortable with the idea that a couple of murders are being pinned on his childhood friend, Buddy Bolden who has risen to fame with the new "jass" music of his horn. St. Cyr watches his friend emotionally and professioanly self-destruct through the use of alcohol and probably opium.

Early 20th-century New Orleans with its large, elegant houses of the madams, its lice infested cribs of prostitution, and its rigid and at times fluid caste system is the setting for historical figures such as political boss Tom Anderson, early jazzman Buddy Bolden, piano player Jelly Roll Morton, photographer E.J. Bellocq whose portraits of New Orleans whores are now famous, and 'the last of the great madames' Lulu White. Each play an important role in the plot which doesn't constrict the characters into stereotypes. It is a tour the cribs, the churches, the saloons, the insane asylum, the dance halls, the morgue and the apartments of New Orleans during the first decade of 1900. The hero is conflicted by race, ethnic, childhood, voodoo and previous career choices that include amateur thief and professional policeman. CWL is now shopping for Jass the second in the series.

The author is a journalist who has written about jazz and blues for National Public Radio, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other publications. He has also written and produced the documentary Blind Willie's Blues.

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