This holiday season undoubtedly offered Gulf Coast denizens a wealth of decoration, delectable food, tempting libations and the schizophrenic weather.
But while weather is unpredictable, the arrival of new books by Deep South authors to read by firelight, the twinkling of Christmas trees lights, Hanukkah candles and every other seasonal celebratory incarnation is not. And this year proves no exception.
‘The Jealous Kind’
Leading the list is South Louisiana author James Lee Burke with his new Holland Family novel, “The Jealous Kind,” narrated on CD by actor Will Patton. Burke is a master of blending spellbinding, lyrical prose with brilliantly crafted characters and social commentary.
Here, protagonist Aaron Holland Broussard comes of age during the Korean War, gets smitten by Valerie Epstein, hangs with unpredictable friend Saber Bledsoe, and butts heads with greasers, mobsters and a high school teacher and World War II veteran with possible Nazi or mob connections.
While Burke spins another highly entertaining web with an edge-of-your-seat thriller plot and believable characters despite their surprisingly bizarre quirks, Patton helps bring those characters to life with an ear for dialect that knows no regional nor even international bounds. You won’t find a more enjoyable tome this year.
‘Two Dead and Counting’
Jackson trial attorney Richard Schwartz follows in the tradition launched by John Grisham of Southern lawyers penning legal thrillers, and he does a decent job of keeping that well-worn genre interesting with his debut novel, “Two Dead and Counting.”
This one’s about a lawyer and a doctor (anesthesiologist) working together to subvert justice for the murders they’ve committed. But this time, they’ve terminated a friend of detective Jack Kendall, who is equally determined to seek out the perpetrator(s) and bring the guilty to his or her just desserts. Schwartz credits the invention of Kendall to his long-held personal desire to help underdogs in the courtroom. With this book he may liven up your nights after the kids have gone to bed.
‘The Devious Debutant’
For the romantics among us, I’ll include a romance writer in this group. Ursula Le Coeur is the name on the book, but that’s a pen name for the New Orleans mother/daughter writing team of Mary and Helen Scully, authors of the “Love in New Orleans series,” book three: “The Devious Debutant.”
Set beneath the “glittering façade of historic mansions and gaslit restaurants” of the Crescent City, the plot concerns the travails of headstrong debutant and opium addict Maureen Collins who refused the husband chosen for her in favor of seducing lawyer and opium smuggler tracker Ben Merritt.
Needless to say, this pursuit of romance turns deadly and the game is on. But what distinguishes this novel is the intelligent dialogue that will interest readers of any genre, and the setting, 19th century New Orleans, sufficiently fascinating to make any book a welcome holiday treat.
Last but not least, Gulf Coast author Jane Golden offers the novel “Danube Defiance,” an extraordinary tale of a diplomat’s wife, Jani, who drags her husband Zach all over Eastern Europe in an attempt to solve a mystery of missing artifacts that began in a New Orleans shop but reveals clues that lead them from Brussels to Romania in search of answers.
When the mystery takes a violent turn, the protagonists face a solve-it-or-die dilemma. If you find this travel mystery to be surprisingly realistic, that’s because Golden served as a diplomat’s spouse in Eastern Europe for years, reveling in the exotic locales and mysterious (to Americans) customs and traditions of the Danube Delta. If you’re stuck at home with relatives this holiday, Danube Defiance is your opportunity to travel the globe, if only in your imagination.
Jim Fraiser, an author and novelist, has is first childrens’ book, “Mything Childrens Adventures: Without A Trace,” is due out next month.