DIE UPON A KISS by Barbara Hambly
Benjamin January Mystery, No. 5
Bantam - June 26, 2001
ISBN 0553109243 - 

Reviewed by Susan McBride, MyShelf.com
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DIE UPON A KISS is the fifth in Barbara Hambly's series of historical mysteries featuring Benjamin January, a free man of color who was trained as a surgeon in Europe but, since returning to New Orleans, must earn a living as a musician.  Ben is hired to play in the orchestra at the American Theatre during its opera season, certainly a pleasant enough gig.  Except that one of the operas to be staged is "Othello," which deals with an interracial romance between a black man and white woman.  A big no-no in 1830s New Orleans, though wealthy white men taking black mistresses is commonplace.

The arrogant impresario, Lorenzo Bellagio, is the brains behind the production of "Othello," though, when he's knifed one night after a rehearsal, many wonder if it's such a good idea after all.  When the dance mistress and other members of the touring company are targets of crime, Ben January figures someone is out to stop the production entirely.  Or is there something else going on?  And might it have to do with the illegal slave trade to which Bellagio may have a connection?

Hambly infuses DIE UPON A KISS with specific details of the time and place that was 1830s New Orleans.  The period dress, lifestyles and attitudes are vividly presented, and lovers of history will be hard-pressed to find a wrong note in the book.  Amidst the social divisions of the era, it's nice to see through the eyes of a man like Ben January:  educated, intellectual and talented, but pigeonholed into a caste system because of the color of his skin. 

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