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Rampart Street: A Valentin St. Cyr Mystery    by David Fulmer order for
Rampart Street
by David Fulmer
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the third - following Chasing the Devil's Tail and Jass - in an excellent historical mystery series, starring detective Valentin St. Cyr in early 1900s New Orleans. Born to a Creole mother and a Sicilian father, St. Cyr is technically a colored man, but his ancestry is not widely known and the fact that he can pass 'in proper society' for white aids his investigations. He is also a former police officer.

The story opens in 1910 as a wealthy American, Mr. John Benedict, is shot and killed in the roughest part of town - on Rampart Street. What was he doing there? An alderman, 'knocking on the devil's back door', presses Tom Anderson, King of Storyville (the New Orleans red-light district), to have St. Cyr look into the murder. After a mysterious fifteen months absence from the city, a thinner, threadbare St. Cyr has returned to work the floor at Anderson's Café and Annex. His parents both dead, Valentin boards with an old friend of theirs, Frank Mangetta, somewhat of a father figure to him. The reader wonders what part his mysterious fellow boarder, Angelo, will play in events.

Others in St. Cyr's circle include young Beansoup who runs his errands; Justine, a dove who lived with, and loved, Valentin before his disappearance; police Lieutenant Picot who shares secrets with him and resents the detective; and hard-drinking reporter Joe Kimball, who's an old friend and source of information. St. Cyr investigates on behalf of Benedict's daughter Anne-Marie, who knows something that has driven her to drink brandy at all hours. He uncovers a connection to business magnate Henry Harris (who's prone to rail against the city's 'festering pool of mixed-blood malignance') and to his own past history, is threatened and attacked, as dead bodies pile up steadily.

The ambience and historical detail intrigues, while the action mounts and the mystery is steadily unveiled. While I found the detective's confrontation of the villain late in the story somewhat implausible, I enjoyed Rampart Street very much, finding its hero rather like Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January, for the 'hard roads' he chooses to take. I look forward to more Valentin St. Cyr mysteries.

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