New Orleans has always seemed to me to have an atmosphere all its own that feels foreign and exotic even though it’s part of the United States. Julie Smith does a good job of recreating that atmosphere in New Orleans Mourning, the first book in the Skip Langdon series and the 1991 Edgar Award Winner.
Skip Langdon grew up among the upper classes of New Orleans though she wasn’t exactly one of them. Her parents were social climbers, her father being doctor to most of the New Orleans aristocracy. Skip recently decided that being a cop was her career choice and she is a rookie, working the parade routes during Mardi Gras. An old acquaintance of hers is Rex, King of the Carnival, and she happens to be in the right place to see him get shot, on his float, in the parade. The murderer is dressed as Dolly Parton and happens to be on the balcony of an apartment whose owner she knows. The death of Chauncey St. Amants gets Skip re-assigned from patrol to helping the detectives working on the murder because of her background with the upper-class family.
There are things to love and things to dislike about this novel but it does have a very distinctive feel and it’s not hard to see why it won the Edgar and was nominated for an Anthony.
I loved the plot line. It’s multi-layered and complicated, but not confusing. It draws you deeper and deeper in as you read. You are seeing multiple points of view, lots of conflicting motivations, deep and genuine emotions and complicated characters. It’s a great picture of the old-money dysfunctional Southern family with deep, dark secrets hiding behind their place in society. One can just about feel the heat and humidity and see the hanging moss and the lush greenery of the Deep South. You can feel the silent servants moving in the background as the privileged go about entertaining each other as their social duties dictate.
What I dislike about this novel is the casual drug use that is pervasive. That bothers me immensely and always diminishes my enjoyment of a book. Some of the actions of characters that drive the plot are disturbing but without them there would be no story. There would be plenty of story without the drug use.
I had read books in the author’s other series set in L.A. and while I enjoyed them, they didn’t begin to have the depth that New Orleans Mourning had for me. It’s not hard to see why this one received so much recognition.