Benjamin January, surgeon and musician, is playing at the funeral of a fellow member of the Faubourg Tremé Free Colored Militia and Burial Society when a drunken pallbearer stumbles, the coffin splits open, and the body of a white man falls out. That's the first shock; the second is that Hannibal Sefton, January's disreputable white friend, immediately recognizes the corpse as a friend from his long-ago days at Oxford.
I picked up a copy of Barbara Hambly's new historical mystery at the Public Library Association conference in Oregon last month, and the publisher's rep remarked that at Severn House they all sat up and took note when the orders for it started rolling in even before it was reviewed anywhere. It's been six years since the previous installment, and I'm sure I wasn't the only reader who reacted with glee to the news at the author's website that a new publisher had picked up the series and we'd finally be getting a new one. I recommend this whole series to everybody I know; you can pretty much read them in any order, but I think it does help to start with the first one, A Free Man of Color.
The mysteries are great, but the characters and setting are even better; the novels give a wonderful sense of what it was like in New Orleans in the 1830s, and especially what it was like for the free black community. The supporting cast is strong, and it was particularly cool in this new one to finally find out a little about Hannibal's life before he washed up in New Orleans, eking out a living by playing fiddle. I tore through this novel in a couple of days, and I hardly ever do that any more.