Review: A Free Man of Color

A Free Man of Color (Benjamin January, Book 1) A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Historical fiction isn’t my favorite genre, but I’m much more willing to read it when it’s mixed with mystery. I’ve read some of Hambly’s work before and know her to be a fine writer, and I’d read good reviews of this series by people I respect, so I decided to give it a whirl.

I suppose all the descriptions of people’s clothing would have mattered much more to someone who cared about such things, but I do realize that they were important in the context of the story. Personally, I was relieved when the main character went on a journey! I would have been happier had his medical skills been utilized more frequently than they were, but I suppose his experiences were fairly true to life for a “colored” man of his time.

I did learn quite a lot—things that I intend to verify in non-fiction sources shortly. The information about the black code, for instance, and the explanation of the distinction between “black” and “colored” people seemed too precise to be fabricated.

I knew, too, that Louisiana is the only U.S. state whose laws are based on French rather than English common law, which seemed silly to me. Why wouldn’t they go with the standard everyone else used? After reading this novel, I’m starting to realize that there may have been rights given to citizens under French law that were lost under English law.

I’m not sure as to whether or not I’ll go forward in the series, as I’m not sure that I can handle the unhappiness I can see foreshadowed even in some of the titles. However, I will say that this volume is well-written and well-plotted. I certainly didn’t guess who the killer was or why the murder was committed before the big reveal, and that was a pleasant change!

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Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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2 thoughts on “Review: A Free Man of Color

  1. As much as I love these books, some very, very bad stuff happens. The series (at least so far as I’ve read) has some of the features of a cozy: same setting and characters, the characters and stories develop over the course of the series while each book stands alone as a mystery. But this series doesn’t have the usual guaranteed happy ending. This isn’t to say the ending is always depressing. The books tend more toward realistic endings than tidy endings.

  2. That’s what I’m afaid of! I’m okay with realistic endings when I’m prepared for them, like in the Eve Dallas series. But not in a cozy! And the sorts of things that can happen to a dark-skinned man in that era are just too dark for me, after coming to identify with him so strongly.

    I’m in denial and I know it, but that’s part of my “put good things in” self-protection strategy. If I can’t consume something and maintain that distance, I don’t consume it – it’s the only reason I can manage to watch things like CSI, because they just aren’t that real to me. If they were better made, I wouldn’t be watching them.

    I guess I’m saying Barbara Hambly is too good a writer for me to keep reading these, compared to J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts? How’s that for a back-handed compliment?

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