New Orleans in the 1830s is a mixture of all sorts of people. There are Christians and voodoo worshippers, English-speakers and French-speaking Creoles, slaves and free men and women of color, like physician and pianist Benjamin January.

When young Isaak Jumon dies after speaking the words "poison" and "Celie", his wife Celie is promptly arrested for murder. The police and Isaak's family believe Celie killed him with poison she bought at the shop of Olympe, January's sister, and Olympe is arrested as well.

January knows his sister is a proud woman who will not deny practicing voodoo, and that whites don't understand the difference between good and bad voodoo. January also knows ingrained prejudice will prevent Olympe from being given a fair trial, and while awaiting trial, the fever that runs rampant in prison due to horrible jail conditions may prove her death sentence. Its up to Benjamin to discover the truth behind Isaak's death.

GRAVEYARD DUST is a sumptuous read, full of the colorful sights and sounds of 19th-century New Orleans. Hambly has researched the era well, and the reader is treated to a journey back in time as well as a first-rate mystery. (May, 496 pp., $5.99—Hardcover published July 1999)

Reviewed by: 
Toby Bromberg