“Music and Malice in Hurricane Town” by Alex Bell

Thanks to Little Tiger Group and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

First, I have to apologise for being a bit late with this review. I’ve been unwell recently and there’s been a bit of a domino effect with my reviews falling by the wayside. I do endeavour to complete reviews before publication date but I’m playing catch up this month I’m afraid! If it’s any consolation it has been genuinely stressing me out to see my reviews falling behind.

Full disclosure: I am a fan of this author. I loved Frozen Charlotte as it was set close to where I grew up and I think the author does creepy REALLY well.

This novel takes places in Baton Noir, which is essentially like an alternate universe New Orleans. New Orleans is somewhere I’ve always been utterly fascinated by, and the author has included some of the aspects of the real life New Orleans to flesh out the bones of this fictional riff on the real life city. There are familiar features including Jazz Music, Riverboats, the surrounding Bayou, Voodoo heritage and beliefs and lots of other familiar motifs. The city of Baton Noir is vibrant and bursting with unique character and in the initial chapters it was at times almost TOO much to take in. The young ‘uns would say it was ‘extra’.

The story follows Jude, a young trumpet player in a Jazz band who is responsible for the care of her father after a family tragedy left him disabled. Upon playing at the funeral of the recently deceased ‘cajou’ queen Ivory Monette, Jude becomes host to Ivory’s vengeful spirit. Ivory is determined to find out who murdered her and enlists Jude to assist her, in exchange for alleviating Jude’s father’s physical pain.

Bell’s real strength as an author is that she’s not afraid to go all in when it comes to the creep factor. There were multiple moments in reading this book that I found myself wincing at some of the descriptions (the part with the Nightmares…enough said) and she’s also drawn upon some real life history too. The Majstos family history in particular is heavily inspired by the real life accounts of Delphine LaLaurie (right down to the brain stirring). There are some genuinely dark moments in this novel so be aware of that if you’re not of the ghoulish persuasion.

I really liked the characters although there were some I wish we’d seen more of such as Etienne and Sofia. I know the romance element didn’t work for some, but I kinda liked it even if I did see it coming from a million miles away.

Inevitably there were some small niggles. The world building was a bit of a whirlwind and I felt it could have taken some more time to unfold as it felt a little rushed. I also felt a big opportunity was missed in making Ivory white, given that Voodoo (Cajou in this novel) is derived from African belief systems and has inseperable links to African American heritage in the real New Orleans. Ivory’s voice also felt a bit discordant to me, it just didn’t seem to quite fit that of an elderly woman from the upper echelons of elite society. Faint alarm bells were also ringing for me when there was reference to segregation between the supernatural and human populations of the city. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be related to real life history of racial segregation?

If it was purely down to my own enjoyment, I’d give this 5 stars because I really, really enjoyed reading it. Given that there were a few small issues, I’d say on balance that it’s a solid 4 star book for me.

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