My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Wow, this was disappointing. To be honest most of the Skip Langdon books disappointed me. (Seriously I remember twenty years ago when the series started reviews raving about how lushly described they were. I read them thinking if I wasn’t told this is New Orleans I would never guess. I was surprised to see Ms. Smith was the first woman to win an Edgar award in nearly forty years back in the early 90s and I thought says more about the sexism of the judges than how good this series is). Anyhow, this just fails to grab me from start to terrible finish. Mostly I read it to fulfill a few reading challenges and so I can send the book on its way to its next home.
Detective Skip Langdon isn’t the only disappointing part of this but she’s the biggest of the disappointments. It’s hard to read a mystery when you don’t really like the lead character. Skip should be a good character, lady detective, over 6 feet tall and tough. Instead she spends much of her on page time whining about her boyfriend or the sergeant who’s currently in charge of her and very little of it actually investigating anything. It opens with her smoking pot (so if that’s a problem for you that’s chapter one). I can handle that but maybe not when she does it again later knowing this sergeant is looking for any reason to can her. (Also, he’s so over the top aggressive I can’t see how she’s not filing a grievance).
The mystery is straight forward enough Ham Brocata has been killed in his kitchen just before Jazzfest, a huge music festival he’s running. He comes from a family who made its money in sandwiches and his father George has a much younger wife, Patty (only five years older than Ham) and a 16-year-old sister, Melody. He’s involved with a Cajun R&B singer, Ti-Belle who actually wants to dump him for someone else, basically the Louisianan answer to Elvis. Melody takes off just after her brother is killed.
So Skip has two things to do. Find Ham’s killer and find Melody because it’s probable that she is his killer. Simple enough, right? Yeah not so much. Melody runs away and changes her hair color which is SO miraculous that literally no one recognizes her (her ex-boyfriend is like ‘she must have had plastic surgery?’ what in the two days that’s gone by? It’s hair color. I change mine often and no one has ever said wow, you’re so different I had NO idea it was you.)
We get too many points of view in this. Skip isn’t on page nearly enough. We do have some chapters with Ti-Belle, George, Patty and the Cajun Elvis. But we get a lot of them with Melody and she made me want to rip the book in half. Part of the reason why I’ll put under a spoiler cut because the ending of this staggers the mind.
Melody is all about Janis Joplin and how she, too, is going to sing and die young. She spends over 300 pages of this thing planning this. She’s an absolute idiot about living on the street. Within a few days has an STD (you get a lengthy description of her trying to pick out crabs from her pubes and no not sorry for spoiling that for anyone). She just knows if she can sing with her friend Joel Boucree she’ll make it. Joel and his musical family are African American and she’s a poor little rich white girl with an older distant father and a trophy mother who isn’t interested in her (so literally such a stereotype she lacks anything imaginative or unique).
I don’t even know how to say this part without sounding like I’m the racist, but Melody idolizes Joel and African Americans but in a weird way. It’s not in a ‘I like African Americans’ sort of way. She pictures them completely unrealistic as if they’re not actual people but some as the personification of perfection (they’re so warm, so musical, so lucky). I lost track of how many times she whined how much she wanted to be Black. Certainly, enough to make me uncomfortable.
Speaking of that, time for a spoiler cut
Worse we do learn one of the characters had killed someone else years ago but because every cop in this is so unprofessional, they don’t have the finger prints from that, so they cut this character lose (because they need to be free as a red herring) but at the end they are never mentioned again. Did they re-arrest this character? Do they get away? What the heck?
But the most disturbing part of all this is Melody and Joel’s family. She doesn’t take it well when he’s not interested in being in a biracial relationship but okay that didn’t bother me really. What bothers me is they decide that because she’s sixteen and the cops are looking for her they shouldn’t sing with her at Jazzfest because it would look bad to have lily white girl singing with a bunch older Black men. So, she says I’ll dress up like a Black woman.
OMG, really? They laugh and then say hey that’s a great idea. And they do it. They put her in an African caftan, paint her skin and give her a wig and then name her Rwanda Zaire because they are strong but full of strife just like her. And no one realizes she’s not Black.
I have no words for this. Well I do but they’re all ugly. I simply can’t believe this got published in a major publishing house even if it was twenty-five years ago.
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