New Orleans is a city that is rich in music, cuisine, and Mardi Gras mania. Its summers are known for their stifling heat and humidity; at one time it was notorious for the outbreaks of Yellow Fever during those steaming summers. Add to all this the fact that New Orleans has an air of mystery from the mingling of religious beliefs and superstitions strongly influenced by Catholicism, Spiritualism, and Voodoo and you have the perfect setting for a murder mystery.
New Orleans was my only choice for Unrepentant: Pray for Us Sinners, Book 3 in the Cate Harlow Private Investigation series. It begins, as all good murder mysteries do, with a bloody murder.
Cate Harlow’s friend, the wealthy and lovely “lady of the New York City evening,” Melissa Abrincourt, has been visiting her aunt in the city where she was born, New Orleans. Unexpectedly, she calls Cate and begs her and Cate’s ex-husband, NYPD Detective Will Benigni, to come to New Orleans. She’s so frantic for their help that she’ll even pay for the airfare. Her beloved Tante Angali, the woman who raised Melissa, has been arrested for the vicious murder of a woman named Fleur-Salí Cloutier.
Melissa desperately needs Cate’s superb, if at times slightly illegal, PI skills and Will’s sharp detective expertise to help find the real murderer. She also feels that Will, who has just passed the New York State Bar, can help navigate the complicated New Orleans legal system for them.
What Melissa doesn’t tell Cate is that she needs her to conduct a very private investigation, without the aid of the local police, into the murder of Fleur-Salí Cloutier—a voodoo priestess, who practiced magie noir (black magic) and was rumored to be involved in the human trafficking of young girls she called her “goddaughters.”
The problem is that Melissa’s aunt had a strong reason to hate the murdered woman. She believed that Fleur-Salí had stolen the soul of her sister. That, and the fact that she is a “gifted person of magic” herself and a powerful witch rival of the murdered woman, makes Tante Anjali the prime suspect. Though she was found alone in the garden of the murdered woman holding a bloody knife in her hand, Anjali swears she is innocent but will not reveal the name of the real murderer.
Cate and Will find that the City of New Orleans conjures up a strange but delicious variety of images. The sounds of jazz, elegant ceiling fans, mysterious doors, spicy food, and the sheer fun of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter capture the senses. It is a fabulous place to be.
But Cate soon finds out that there is another side to the city as well, an underbelly and a darkness that is as carefully hidden behind locked gates like the beloved gardens in the French Quarter. This underbelly is filled with compelling ideas concerning voodoo, magie noir, gods, and dubious saints. “They’re all there,” says Cate to Will, “you just have to know where to look.”
Cate’s own private investigation into the murder takes her into the mystical and frightening heart of New Orleans voodoo magic and a possible connection to witchcraft in her own family.
Setting this book in New Orleans gave me the perfect opportunity to add to the story a strong sense of things and forces in our lives that we sometimes cannot always see or understand. We’ve all felt them. To me, New Orleans is a magical place where you have to suspend your belief in absolute reality, enjoy the mysterious beauty of the city itself, and come to an understanding and respect of the powerful unseen.
Unrepentant: Pray for Us Sinners will be published in December, 2016.
Lead image via Jet Blue
Kristen Houghton is the author of nine top-selling novels, including For I Have Sinned and Grave Misgivings, books 1 and 2 in the best-selling new series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation. Book 3 in the series, Unrepentant: Pray for Us Sinners, will be published Fall of 2016. She is hard at work on a new series that features a paranormal investigator with distinct powers of her own.
Houghton is also the author of two non-fiction books and numerous short stories which appear in popular anthologies.