|David Fulmer: Chasing the Devil's Tail|
Pen Press (Hardcover), ISBN 1890208841
A promising opener to jazz critic David Fulmer's first mystery series, Chasing the Devil's Tail transports the reader to the steamy world of Storyville, the famed New Orleans brothel district. A new kind of music, called "jasseur" after the French word for "chatter," appropriately enough, has everyone talking. The new music's combination pied piper and mad prophet, King Bolden provides even more fuel for the district's gossips. Bolden acts like one possessed by the very devil of music, and the prostitutes he consorts with soon wind up dead, each clutching a black rose.
Tom Anderson, Storyville's principal property owner and uncrowned king, doesn't intend to allow an American Jack the Ripper to cut into his profits. Anderson assigns Valentin St. Cyr, a Creole ex-policeman on Anderson's "cash-only" payroll, to solve the murders knowing full well Valentin's personal stake in the affair. Valentin grew up on the same streets as Bolden and considers the coronet genius a friend. Bolden's musical success casts a reflected glow of achievement over every person of color in the district. At the same time, the murders represent a threat to everyone who loves a "working girl," Valentin included.
Fulmer captures the humid oppressiveness of a New Orleans summer and the subtle gradations of oppression in turn-of-the-20th-century society. He exposes the festering vice and secret agendas of Storyville's most famous citizens in the same way the Black Rose Killer exposes the physical secrets of his victims. Ultimately everyone in Storyville, including Mr. Tom, lives in a glass house. But that doesn't stop Fulmer's characters from throwing stones -- or prevent the reader from identifying with them.
However, Fulmer gets a little too caught up in the sultry pace of life in his chosen time and place. A sense of helplessness swamps Valentin a little too often, allowing the narrative to sag in places. A little less blues and a little more jazz may be in order. But these little flaws only give this intriguing new series more room to grow..
Jean Marie Ward
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