The fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina brings readers two very different crime novels. Kenneth Abel's forthcoming Down in the Flood takes readers into the heart of the storm and the following flood, with all of its violence. Mary Anna Evans' Floodgates is set in the present, but the viewpoint of an archaeologist looking back is equally powerful.
Faye Longchamp and her small crew is excavating a plantation site near Chalmette, the site of Andrew Jackson's 1815 victory. Faye is visiting a park ranger's neighborhood to see the destruction when a church group uncovers a body. But, as an archaeologist, Faye doesn't like the appearance of the bones. Her suspicions are shared by Detective Jodi Bienvenu who believed Faye, and thought the house was a crime scene.
The people of New Orleans might have been used to bodies turning up for quite a while after Katrina, but Faye did not expect to learn that the body was that of a fellow archaeologist, Shelly Broussard. Shelly was a friend to Nina, a woman on Faye's crew. And, Shelly had been as outspoken about the failing levees as Nina herself was. When Nina has an accident, the question is, was it because of her televised comments about the levees, or because of her friendship with the dead woman?
Detective Bienvenu hires Faye and her fiancé, Joe Wolf Mantooth, as consultants in her investigation. She respected their intuition, their curiosity, and their knowledge. And, as the two questioned others as to Shelly's last days, rescuing people from Katrina, they began to respect the dead woman. And, Faye and Jodi did not want to see a murderer get away. Faye said it. "Maybe somebody needed to dispose of a corpse in late August 2005. What better solution than to take that body to a flooded-out house and sink it to the floor? It would be weeks before anybody found it and, when they did, nobody would look at it and think, Murder victim. Nope. The long list of lives taken by Hurricane Katrina would simply be inflated by one...and a murderer would walk free."
Floodgates looks at Hurricane Katrina from a historian's viewpoint. In the course of Faye's investigation, she meets with other archaeologists, historians and engineers who know the history of New Orleans, the levees and the flooding of the city. All of those elements are important in the loss of life in New Orleans. This is the fifth in the Faye Longchamp series, but it's one that seems to bring Faye to life even more than previous mysteries. Her investigation makes her aware of her own life, her love of Joe, her need for a friend. She works a case in which she's respected from the very beginning, and Faye's working in a city where her multiracial background isn't unusual. Evans' own love of the city comes through in Faye's pleasure in it. This is a quieter story of Katrina than Abel's book. This one looks back through a historian's eyes. But, Faye's eyes are worth looking through, to understand our own recent past as history. Readers interested in what happened in New Orleans can read this book, without having read the previous ones in the series. Floodgates is the most polished, and most fascinating, of Evans' books. She skillfully mixes history, engineering, and the story of the city, with a mystery. Faye Longchamp has grown into an accomplished woman, and a knowledgeable amateur sleuth. She's an outsider looking back at New Orleans, but, she's an outsider that shares a love many people feel for that lost city. Floodgates is a powerful mystery of a city, and people, that embody love and loss.
Mary Anna Evans' website is www.maryannaevans.com
Floodgates by Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781590585917 (hardcover), 256p.