In 1830s New Orleans, freed slave Benjamin January and his wife Rose barely make a living running a school that Rose has established. Bank manager Hubert Granville informs them that his manager, Oliver Weems, has absconded with the bank's money, which includes $4,000 the Januarys deposited.
Granville hires Rose and Benjamin to recover the stolen money by following Weems as he travels up the Mississippi on the Silver Moon steamboat, where Granville believes the money is hidden. With the assistance of Englishman Hannibal Sefton, who poses as his master, Benjamin takes on the role of a slave as he and Rose join the passengers aboard the steamship.
When Weems' body is discovered entangled in the boat's paddlewheel, there is no shortage of suspects, includ-ing the victim's very devious fiancée, but Benjamin and Hannibal become the prime suspects. Hambly brings early steamboat travel alive, with all its sights, sounds and perils. Suspenseful and complex, this novel portrays the gritty reality of life in the pre-Civil War South. (Aug., 297 pp., $25.00)