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Long-running Historical Fiction series by Barbara Hambly, detailing the crime-solving adventures of Benjamin January (or "Janvier" if you happen to be in the Vieux Carré) in New Orleans of the 1830s. Benjamin was born a slave in the Louisiana cane plantations, but his mother was purchased and freed as a placée (a status somewhere between wife and mistress, denoting a legal relationship between a white man and a woman of color) when he was still young; her benefactor also freed and educated her children into the bargain. As a result, January is trained as a surgeon and a concert pianist in Paris. He returns to New Orleans after the death of his wife, and promptly is thrown into webs of intrigue, politics and the occasional murder, along with his companions: dissolute Irish violinist Hannibal Sefton, Lt. Abishag Shaw of the New Orleans City Guard, and a motley roster of characters of all professions and colors.

The series to date includes:

  • A Free Man of Color
  • Fever Season
  • Graveyard Dust
  • Sold Down the River
  • Die Upon a Kiss
  • Wet Grave
  • Days of the Dead
  • Dead Water
  • Dead and Buried
  • The Shirt Off His Back
  • Ran Away

This series includes the following tropes:

  • Amateur Sleuth
  • The Big Easy: Circa 1830, as seen through the eyes of the mixed-race population.
  • Black and Nerdy: Rose and her students. Arguably January fits the trope as well.
  • But Not Too Black: Discussed in detail. New Orleans' mixed-race society and all the divisions of color therewith feature prominently throughout the books. January himself, along with his full sister Olympe, is griffe (three-quarters black); his mother Livia is mulatto (half black), while his half-sister Dominique is quadroon (three-quarters white).
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: January has a bad case.
  • Clear My Name / Clear Their Name
  • Costume Porn: Ayasha, January's deceased first wife, was a seamstress, which allows him to recognize the particular baubles on a dead woman's Carnival costume in A Free Man of Color.
  • Dead Sibling: The motive of two killers.
  • Deadpan Snarker
  • Disguised in Drag: Rose does this on occasion.
    • "Doña Viola d'Illyria" in Days of the Dead.
  • Distressed Dude: Hannibal. It's a rare book that doesn't require January to rescue him at some point.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: January's childhood tales of "Compair Lapin" - French dialect for "Brother Rabbit." Luckily no one's yet made mention of briar patches.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: January to Rose, initially.
  • Dreaming the Truth: In Ran Away, Benjamin January dreams of his dead wife asking where Sabid is -- which causes him to consider whether Sabid might actually be in New Orleans, making trouble again for the same man he attacked years ago.
  • Eagle-Eye Detection
  • Frame-Up
  • French Jerk: The nefarious doings, general perfidy and lack of social class of "les sales Américains" (the dirty Americans) are frequent and popular subjects of discussion in New Orleans' Francophone community.
  • Friend on the Force: Lieutenant Shaw.
  • Genius Bruiser: Our hero is an accomplished musician and surgeon, speaks six languages and is well read in the classics. He also took boxing lessons in his youth.
  • Germanic Efficiency: Augustus Mayerling, the town's Prussian fencing master, plays this trope in spades.
  • Heat Wave: In Fever Season.
  • Historical Fiction
  • Historical In-Joke: Lots.
  • Hot Scientist: Rose is a teacher, naturalist and chemist, and is also amazingly good-looking, even by the standards of the demimonde.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Hannibal's tuberculosis, which is treated quite realistically.
  • Ill Girl: Hannibal, despite being male, fits the trope quite nicely. When he isn't suffering an exacerbation of tuberculosis, alcohol and laudanum can be counted on to provide the illness.
  • It's Always Mardi Gras in New Orleans: Averted. Only two books feature Mardi Gras, and the seasons of southern Louisiana are discussed in detail.
  • Kentucky Fried Genius: Abishag Shaw, despite looking like a hillbilly scarecrow, dressing like he hasn't two nickels to rub together, and talking like Huck Finn on steroids, also speaks fluent French and is an extraordinarily competent and honest police officer.
  • The Lost Lenore: Ayasha, the hero's wife, who died shortly before the beginning of the series. Eleven books and five years later, her (happily remarried) husband still mourns for her.
  • Magical Negro: A few people in the series, usually the Americans, actually view January this way. The concept of a black man being classically educated, as a surgeon no less, is utterly incomprehensible to people who think the only uses for black people are as field-hands and house servants. Hence, January is the go-to guy for everything from Mardi Gras costumes to murder mysteries.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The system of placage, the term for a legal contracted relationship between a white man and a free woman of color. Placées occupy a status somewhere between wife and mistress, but they are frequently paid off and set aside when the white man in question marries. However, it's still expected that the man will educate and support any children that result from the match.
  • Once an Episode: The plot frequently forces January to go on a dangerous trip away from the story's main setting, usually near the end of the book.
  • Pass Fail: Forms the basis for a string of murders in Dead and Buried. The victims are the only people who know a prominent "white" banker is actually a light-skinned octoroon trying to pass.
  • The Pig Pen: Technically, Shaw is an exceptionally Dirty Cop.
  • Readers Are Geniuses: There's plenty of untranslated Greek, Latin and French.
  • Renaissance Man: Meet Benjamin January, Paris-trained surgeon, concert pianist and part-time detective. His buddies Hannibal Sefton and Abishag Shaw also fit the trope.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Franz Bodenschatz a/k/a Frank Boden, in The Shirt Off His Back was willing to kill hundreds of traders and trappers to get his revenge on the man who allegedly killed his sister in a fit of madness. When Abishag's brother winds up dead as a result of being caught in said Roaring Rampage, the crew leaves New Orleans and heads west to exact justice on his killer.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Olympe has a wicked sense of wit, and is not above tweaking her "downtown" brother about his white friends and cultured demeanor.
  • Scary Black Man: January can play himself off as this, being 6'3" and built like a brick outhouse. He usually doesn't, being fettered by the Code Noir, which among other things prevents anyone of color from striking or threatening harm on any white person.
  • Sugar and Ice Personality: Rose, which enables her to play Blue Oni to January's Red.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Augustus Mayerling. Hannibal is the only one to figure it out, on account of a laudanum-induced Sweet on Polly Oliver moment.
  • The Big Easy: The city of New Orleans circa 1830 is as much a character in the series as the characters themselves.
  • The Fettered: January, either figuratively (even though he's free, the law prevents him from striking a white man) or literally (he's captured and chained for a slave on several occasions).
  • The Unfavorite: January and Olympe to their mother.
  • Tsundere: Ayasha, apparently.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Heavily deconstructed. Several of the colored characters in the series intentionally play this to avoid white suspicion, and the difficulty of pretending to be an uneducated idiot for the benefit of an actual uneducated idiot who just happens to be white is discussed in detail.
  • Voudoun: Forms the background for Graveyard Dust. Olympe Janvier is a voodooienne, going by the name Olympe Snakebones. The real-life voodooienne Marie Laveau also shows up in this book. Elsewhere in the series, gris-gris and other voodoo talismans show up on a fairly regular basis, and colored characters may interchangeably invoke Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, and any of the old gods (Papa Legba is a favorite).
  • We Help the Helpless: Yup, that would be January and his friends again. The Faubourg Tremé Free Colored Militia and Burial Society, of which January is on the board of directors, also performs the same service within the demimonde - it's their role and subsequent intervention in a funeral gone wrong that kicks off Dead and Buried.
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: January never saw his father again after being sold and freed as a child, but he always wondered what became of him.
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