Light, quick-paced mystery with strong New Orleans atmosphere and gay MCs
You can book a weekend at a French Quarter B & B or save some money by picking up Greg Herren’s “Garden District Gothic” instead. This book is like stroll down Bourbon Street: nobody’s sober and everyone’s up to no good. You can practically feel the humidity rolling off the page in the newest installment of Herren’s New Orleans-set Scotty Bradley Mysteries. The magnolia-clad atmosphere is helped along by fading Southern belles languidly sipping absinthe on porches; luxurious Garden District mansions hiding a corpse or two and sweaty gay boys running charity races in red dresses.
The story plunges private eye Scotty Bradley deep into a decades-old mystery: who killed child beauty queen Delilah Metoyer? The riddle drops on Scotty’s doorstep when former teen bully Jesse Metoyer, Delilah’s half-brother, mysteriously re-emerges from obscurity and hires Scotty and his partners to look into it. There are shades of the Jon Benet Ramsey case from the 90’s and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil as Scotty navigates a tangle of family secrets thicker than Spanish moss on a live oak tree.
This was a fun, light read. The mystery was satisfying and the setting and characters are unique. In the most successful aspect of the book, Herron does a fantastic job giving you the flavor of New Orleans, from the bohemian streets of the French Quarter to the stodgy upper-crust society of the Garden District. He doesn’t shy away from how the city has changed since Katrina either. Here’s Herren describing Bourbon Street:
Barkers outside outside strip joints try to lure spenders in, a guy in the hand grenade costume dances on his corner, and everywhere is the smell of Lucky Dogs and grease.
And the sedate Garden District:
If the Quarter is a painted whore, the Garden District is her much snootier and pretentious sister, narrowing her eyes disapprovingly at the immorality down the river. The people who live in those old mansions on their gorgeous lawns behind their fences will always smirk in the general direction of the Quarter, gently sipping tea from heirloom bone china cups held in white-gloved hands…although sometimes the “tea” is actually bourbon.
As far as the characters, Herren has created an intriguing one in Scotty Bradley, a life-long resident of New Orleans with psychic abilities who’s also one-third of a gay polyamorous relationship. This is the first of these mysteries I’ve read and Herren successfully introduces Scotty to new readers without getting bogged down in too much exposition. Approaching forty, Scotty’s a former go-go boy dealing with the unique challenges of aging as a gay man and the loss of his psychic abilities after Katrina. He has two somewhat improbable partners, a former FBI agent turned professional wrestler and a spy. Also in their household is a college-age nephew that the trio essentially adopted after his parents kicked him out for being gay. Scotty’s parents, unabashed hippies in a persistent haze of pot smoke who run a tobacco shop, provide additional color. Assorted other eccentric New Orleans types round out the minor characters and provide the engine for the mystery.
On the negative side, the aversion to a Nancy Grace-type television personality is overdone, there’s too much talk of the weather and the mystery resolves a bit precipitously. Also people are constantly smoking pot or drinking (but maybe that’s just New Orleans for you). Other than that, “Garden District Gothic” is entertaining and quick-paced and I would definitely read the other books in the series. If you’re looking for a light, entertaining mystery with gay main characters in a unique setting, I recommend it. (G-rated)
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in return for a review.