Murdered at Mardi Gras, farewell to the king

I finally decided to read Julie Smith’s “New Orleans Mourning.”

As most people know, Mardi Gras is a time leading up to Fat Tuesday’s grand finale parade celebrating the king and queen of Carnival. This year’s king is Chauncy St. Amant.

Being chosen as king of Carnival is a great honor bestowed only on those in the highest level of New Orleans society. Consequently, Chauncy’s family was gathered at the prestigious Boston Club where they would stand on the balcony and wave as the float carrying the king and queen passed by.

Those attending were Chauncy’s wife, Bitty, son Henry, daughter Marcelle, longtime family friend, Tolliver Albert, Bitty’s influential father Haygood Mayhew and an array of the city’s high society crowd. Most are either drunk or high on something – after all, it is Mardi Gras.

Down on the street, rookie cop Skip Langdon is standing with her back to the street as she works crowd control. She’s on loan from her regular precinct and is actually enjoying watching the people gathered all the route.
Skip is very familiar with Carnival. She grew up here, but she’s never fit in. She may be the daughter of a high society doctor and social climbing mother, but Skip’s 6-foot height, broad body and rebellious nature didn’t fit the image they wanted to project. After flunking out of a couple of colleges and leaving several nowhere jobs, Skip discovered she liked police work. It fit her size and really upset her parents. What could be better?

As the king’s float neared, Skip turned to take a peek. To her horror, she saw someone dressed as Dolly Parton fire a pistol at the king. As she battles her way forward, she is jostled by a man with a camera. Chauncy St. Amant is dead, and Skip saw it happen.

Since she was a witness and friends with the St. Amant family, she is assigned to assist two experienced detectives. One seems to accept her; the other is openly hostile. She learns that the man with camera is Steve Steinman, and he offers to give her the film he’d shot at the scene. But before he can deliver it, he is knocked cold and the film is taken.

Strangely, he and Skip hit it off, and she finds his bulk and wits very helpful in the investigation. Chauncy had made his share of enemies on his climb to the top, but all seem to have alibis. Something about this convinces Skip that the killer was someone close to Chauncy.

On closer inspection, she sees that Bitty has been an alcoholic for years. Chauncy barely tolerated Henry, was overly affectionate to Marcelle and had affairs with a succession of secretaries. Skip’s only lead is news about a high-end prostitute named La Belle Doucette. With Steve’s help, Skip follows a tangled thread connecting the St. Amants and La Belle in a way that makes her sick at heart.

When she figures out what happened and why, she takes the information and recovered film to the detectives. They watch it but miss important details, so Skip shows them what convinced her of who the killer really was. Feeling triumphant, they call in Lt. Duby and share the incriminating film with him. To Skip’s astonishment and anger, Lt. Duby “accidentally” destroys the evidence, saying it appears they have no case. The detectives are stoic, but Skip is livid. Once again, the rich and powerful — quite literally — get away with murder.

This book ends with Skip impulsively destroying her uniform and everything connected with the case. I’ll have to read the next book to find out what happens with Skip and her career as a cop.
We may not have the wild celebrations of Mardi Gras, but we can share in all kinds of merriment through the books available at your public library. Make this the week you go in and check it out.

“New Orleans Mourning”
AUTHOR: Julie Smith
PUBLISHER: booksBnimble
PUBLISHED: Dec. 29, 2013
PAGES: 401