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on March 31, 2002
I have enjoyed every one of the Ben January "mysteries" from the first up through this one.
But i had to make about three starts at this one before i made it through.
There are too many characters, too many of whom really failed to register on me. I barely managed to keep track of the principals, and probably lost a number of plot details because of not grasping character interactions properly. (I generally like Hambly's books better when they feature smaller casts.)
I must also agree that i could have done with more of January's family (though his placee sister is featured in a rather tense little side-plot) and, perhaps, more of Rose -- although i suspect that "more of Rose" is going to be rather prominent in some future volume.
I especially would have enjoyed more of Abishag Shaw, the Colombo-esque "American" police officer with whom Ben has a working relationship based on mutual respect and trust that's about as close to true friendship as a free man of color and a white man would be able to come in the New Orleans of the mid-nineteenth century. ((Ben's friendship with his Irish fellow-musician is a special case...))
And i'd certainly welcome more of Marie Laveau...
That all being said, i still enjoyed the book quite a bit -- even if i lost track of the details of the mystery part of the plot -- because Hambly, as always, spins a great story of hope and despair, love and hate, life and death and tears and laughter.
While this is not the volume i'd choose to hand to someone who hadn't read any of the previous books -- i'd definitely recommend beginning with "A Free Man of COlor", the first -- and while i found it the most difficult of the series so far, i would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who asked me if they ought read it.
((Incidentally, if you have read this book or any of the previous books in this series and enjoyed them, but have not tried her fantasies, i definitely recommend them -- particularly my favourite, the unfortunately out-of-print "Stranger at the Wedding", which straight-facedly combines the best aspects of a Georgette Heyer romantic farce with a mildly gruesome horror plot.))
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on July 3, 2001
Barbara Hambly has written another brilliant Benjamin January mystery in "Die Upon A Kiss" -- Hambly ably mixes political intrigue with the over the top shenanigans of the opera stars, adding a dollop of two of assault, battery and murder. Add to that her very astute and bitingly sharp observations of the class, race and gender practices of New Orleans in the 1830s, and you have a very entertaining, finely detailed and informative novel.
It's Carnival time in New Orleans, and the American Theatre (sponsored by the 'American' community in New Orleans in direct competition to the Creole sponsored opera company) is about to open with it's first opera season under the aegis's of an Italian impresario, Lorenzo Belaggio. And Benjamin January has been able to successfully acquire a job with the orchestra of this new theatre. One night, as he is leaving the theatre after a late rehearsal, Benjamin walks into an attempt on Belaggio's life. Benjamin successfully defends Belaggio from his attackers, and in the chaos that follows, the hysterical opera director accuses first two of his tenors (Belaggio is an Italian who supports the Austrian occupation of the northern cities of Italy, while the two tenors, Cavallo & Ponte, are firm supporters of the New Italy movement); and then the manager of the rival opera company (and Benjamin's friend, John Davis) of the attempted murder. As the hours and days pass, Belaggio's accusations against Davis mount, much to Davis's consternation. Things between the Creole and 'American' communities are tense as it is, without Belaggio's inflammatory claims against Davis. And so Davis asks Benjamin to look into things, and hopefully discover who was really behind the attempt on Belaggio's life, before the next, and perhaps fatal, attempt takes place.
The suspects and motives are many. Definitely Cavallo and Ponte despise Bellagio for his political stance. But would the two men actually kill Bellagio simply for supporting the Austrians? Benjamin senses something deeply personal about this attack. And when it turns out that Belaggio's current mistress, the prima donna of the company, the beautiful Drusilla, is also being courted by one of the sponsors of the theatre, Benjamin wonders if it may be a case of one rival getting rid of another. And then another tantalizing thought comes to mind: the company will be performing "Othello" and Benjamin wonders if someone may be going all out to prevent the play that tells of a black man's love for a white woman from being performed. So many possibilities; where is Benjamin to start? Fortunately, Benjamin has his trusted friend and fellow orchestra player, Hannibal Sefton, as an ally in this quest. But even before Benjamin and Hannibal have even started their investigation, their good friend Madame Scie, the ballet mistress is attacked and severely injured. It looks as if someone is hunting the members of this new company, and for Benjamin, the hunt for this assassin has suddenly become very personal indeed.
"Die Upon A Kiss" is a really brilliant read. The plot is a little convoluted, but well worth the effort of sticking it out. I was simply glued to the pages. Not only was the story outstanding, but the use of language and imagery was absolutely exquisite! Hambly has successfully imbued this novel with that dark atmospheric almost gothic feel -- I could almost taste and smell the dark, cool New Orleans nights that she so ably describes. The characters were all very well defined, and the level of tension/suspense was well sustained. But what I liked most was her droll and biting observations about New Orleans society (both black and white) and the dramatic and grand gestures that the members of the new opera company indulged in. This novel is an absolutely wonderful read, and well worth a five star rating.
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on November 22, 2001
Die Upon a Kiss starts out as a mystery at the opera. It didn't sound very interesting compared to the previous books in the Benjamin January series. It actually took this book awhile to get going.
However, when it does, it really cooks. What sounds like a boring opera story develops into international intrigue, more slavery issues and crimes that happened in the past. You'd think that this would make the book be a little disjointed, but Hambly brings it all together marvelously. There are so many twists and turns in this one, it almost gives you whiplash (but in a good way).
Hambly, as always, is great with the New Orleans atmosphere. She has increased it from what was in the fourth book, though she's still not up to the third book's standards where this is concerned. However, I didn't notice it as much, because the book itself was so intriguing.
Not only that, but there is actual movement in a lot of the relationships between the characters. There are changes in Ben & Rose's relationship, Dominique, even Hannibal a little bit. You get to know a little bit more about the past, both January's and Hannibal's. January's time spent in Paris actually is relevant for once, rather than just background information.
This one took me a bit longer to read because of the slow start. However, it is definitely worth every moment spent on it. The payoff is great, and you will soon find yourself praising Hambly again. I can't wait for Wet Grave to come out.
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on July 21, 2001
This is one of the best mystery series that I have found. The history is interesting and Ms Hambly has a way of making the period come alive. This book, as the fifth in the series, moves the characters forward in their relationships. I like that because, too often, TV shows & books do not allow their characters to grow or change. Like all the books in this series, this book makes interesting observations on the social mores of the time. The mystery is fairly interesting and complex, but that was not my favorite part of the story. All in all, I would recommend this book to any mystery reader or fan of the series as being on a par with the first one. Also a rarity in series fiction
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on August 23, 2002
I got stuck about 20 pages into it and from there restarted reading it about four times before I finally finished it. I was inundated with the cast of characters and found it very difficult to keep all the relationships and subplots straight. This, along with the author's writing style of constantly interrupting the sentence flow by inserting other lengthy information right in the middle of it (count the em dashes in the book sometime!) made this book a tedious read. I did enjoy seeing Benjamin's & Rose's relationship further develop, and of course getting a great feel for how life was in 1830s New Orleans.
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on October 6, 2015
This is my 6th Benamin January novel. The author meshed local historical facts within the storyline to really bring the the tale to life.

Barbara Hambly has managed to ter me away from my favorite- James Lee Burke'novels(even if only temporary). She really did a great job with her research of her characters and locations.
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on June 4, 2015
Barbara Hambly exels at plot, narration, character cevelopment, atmosphere, and sense of historical time/place. I wish she would spend less time on the bugs, but I love all the January books, and this one has comic elements that are delighful.
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on March 6, 2015
Her books are excellent. Great research to the culture, environment, and relationships of the early/middle 1800's. Ms. Hambly gives great detail to the geographic region of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Her characters are real, you love or hate them.
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on August 3, 2014
I've read eight of the Benjamin January series and this one has been my favorite so far. I really enjoyed the various characters and the background on how the two Opera Houses planned to create the volcanoes. The plot got just a hair muddled at the end but Hambly wrapped it up well. I felt as if I had time traveled back to hear Operas as presented in 1830's New Orleans.
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on June 24, 2001
Intrige! Evil Villians! Raging Divas! Starcrossed Lovers! Treachery! Poison! Nemesis! Loyal Friends! Peasants! Dancing and Singing!
Early 19th Century opera in all it's glory spills onto almost every page, and better yet ...even caught up in the midst of several rather tangled (and admittedly somewhat melodramatic) mysteries, Ben and his friends get to have some fun during Carnival ... and we get to see a little more of Ben's Paris life as the past and politics catch up with him. And, as the title indicates, this story has many Shakesperian allusions sprinkled in.
This is a wonderful (and fun) charactor study for Benjamin January fans, the interactions between almost all the charactors, including some of the minor ones who could have easily become throw-away - are sympathetically drawn and realistic as Hambly can make it.
For those who want a good historical mystery read with the authentic feel of period and attitudes, I would highly recommend this book.
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