The place is New Orleans and the event is Mardi Gras. The insanity of the carnival is at its peak as Rex rolls down St. Charles Avenue. On the prominent float of this most prominent parade is the exalted and very prominent new King of Carnival, one Chauncey St. Amant. Chauncey is stamped indelibly into the social register as upper class, albeit not afraid to come down from his lofty perch for worthwhile causes. On a balcony high above the street and the screaming crowd a costumed Dolly Parton fires one shot and ends the King of Rex’s life.
So begins New Orleans Mourning, by Julie Smith. Skip Langdon, rookie cop, but with connections to the upper-crust which reign over New Orleans twelve months out of the year, not just at carnival time, is taken off street beat and assigned to the case because of her connections with the family of St. Amant. The two other detectives assigned to the case are not at all that enamored by her and treats her almost contemptuously. Skip, realizing that this is a career-in-the-making case dives headlong into it, although with a few misgivings and old hurts which haunt her, arriving as old memories about her social-climbing parents.
A free-lance photographer was shooting a video of the parade and the crowd and accidentally captured the Dolly Parton look alike in the actual act of committing murder. But, of course the film comes up missing as Skip and the photographer ease into a “relationship.” As Skip questions members of the St Amant family she is not taken seriously at first, and then is hated for her persuasive investigation. She is not the perfect detective. She has ghost from her past that plague her and she tokes on marijuana to try and calm herself down from time to time, because the intensity of the investigation is overwhelming.
As she goes about her business she begins to uncover layer after layer of good old fashioned southern, aristocratic trash in high places. Skip digs beneath the façade of the upper class and beneath the glamour and adulation she finds more layers of lies, cover-ups and degeneracy. And, a book about the south would not be complete if race was not seen in a not too flattering way.
Who killed Chauncey St. Amant? And why? Skip finds plenty of possible suspects in the high-toned family’s skeletons and even finds herself pursuing a black prostitute suspect in the ghetto. As the story unfolds, pointing the finger this way, Skip sees other possibilities, and on and on in a confusing labyrinth of who can you trust. The final pages are exquisitely written and the reader can only read, open-mouthed, at the revelations and finally the identity of the murderer. I highly recommend New Orleans Mourning to anyone who loves a wild and woolly mystery. Thank you Pam for turning me onto to it.