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Days of the Dead    by Barbara Hambly order for
Days of the Dead
by Barbara Hambly
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2004 (2003)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Having read every volume in Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series, I'm delighted that she has finally relented and given him joy in his life through his marriage to Rose Vitrac. Nevertheless, the author doesn't let the happy couple relax - their honeymoon is a rushed rescue mission to Mexico, where Hannibal Sefton has been accused of the murder of the half-brother of his opera singer inamorata, Consuela Montero.

Attacked by bandits en route, they finally cross the marshlands to gain entry to Mexico City. There, Consuela explains that her mad father, Don Prospero de Castellon, holds Hannibal prisoner at his hacienda, where he rules as an absolute lord. For now, Hannibal is safer there than elsewhere, since police officer Ylario is anxious to hang him. Don Prospero awaits the 'Days of the Dead', when he plans to consult his dead son about Hannibal's fate - a process Benjamin's friend is unlikely to survive. When Ben and Rose travel to Don Prospero's domain, they find such convoluted family relationships that January exclaims 'And I thought my old master's family was a nest of snakes'.

The evidence against Hannibal seems damning, and his friends desperately research ways in which someone else might have committed the murder, which appears to have been a poisoning. One of the daughters of the family is engaged in an illicit affair, while other members are fanatically religious. There's a Gallic chef, the victim's German valet who lied and has disappeared, and various relatives who resent their financial dependence. There are several appearances by the colorful Santa Anna (well known for his command of the Mexican forces at the Alamo). January has a close call at a bull fight, visits a lunatic asylum and a prison, and ends up taking refuge at the Pyramid of the Sun.

Rose is a full partner in both the investigation and the danger that arises as they get too close to the truth. And Hannibal's deadline with death steadily draws nearer. Of course the good guys prevail (with a surprising resolution to the mystery) but Ben is somewhat disillusioned in his expectation of Mexico as a 'land of freedom'. He finds instead a place where 'Every indio was still every white man's slave' and blacks were still treated 'as creatures without rights or name.' I enjoyed this detour in the series very much, but also look forward to the next episode, Dead Water, back in New Orleans.

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