Top positive review
8 people found this helpful
an exquisite crafted novel and a wonderful read
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.