Lavish, vivid, and full of drama, DIE UPON A KISS stylistically mirrors its setting, the opulent world of 19th-century opera, as it brings the complex, stratified society of antebellum New Orleans to life.

When physician, pianist and free man of color Benjamin January foils an assassination attempt on Lorenzo Bellagio—an Italian impresario brought in to head the new American Opera House—he doesn't realize his brave act will embroil him in intrigue and violence, on stage and off.

Soon a wealthy backer is killed and the ballet mistress, a friend of Ben's, attacked. Competition is cutthroat among entertainers, but murder seems extreme. However, Bellagio's brilliant production of "Othello" is the talk of the town—and while it's "the custom of the country" for white men to take black mistresses, the reverse is completely taboo. Has this story of interracial love sparked the hatred of a madman?

As always, Hambly spins a powerful and utterly gripping tale. What makes her stories so fascinating, though, is her lush setting and rich characterizations—of free blacks and slaves, plantation families, the haughty, high-born Creoles and the uncouth American interlopers they disdain—all of which are fully realized and beautifully rendered. (Available now, 336 pp., $5.99) Hardcover published July 2001.

Reviewed by: 
Laurie Davie