Only a little bit late for Mardi Gras, I’ve discovered a great series with a woman P.I. in New Orleans. After one book, I’m looking forward to further evenings of criminal bliss with her.
Talba Wallis is the creation of Edgar winner Julie Smith. She’s savvy, competent, and comfortable in her own skin. The skin happens to be black. A keen observer of human foibles, she shows a compassion for them which brings to my mind detective heroes of the late Dick Francis.
Talba works for a well-established private eye with a prosperous practice but an aversion to computers. He’s somewhat awed by her, though he doesn’t show it. He suspects she might be as smart as he is, if not more so. He also suspects some of her methods of finding things out might not be quite on the up-and-up. His lawyer daughter is one of Talba’s friends.
In addition to her day job, Talba is an accomplished poet popular at readings throughout the city. Her occasional poems add dimension to the plot without slowing it (unless, perhaps, you prefer non-stop mayhem). They’re nicely accessible even to those who don’t read poetry.
The writing is extremely skillful. Author Smith weaves a tight mystery, keeps it moving, and creates rounded characters. Two other things particularly made me a fan of her work. She paints a vivid picture of a city and culture using minimal strokes. She also avoids the we-do-things-differently-in-the-South-and-we-are-cute mentality which many authors with stories set there tend to lard on.
In addition to the Talba Wallis series, Julie Smith writes three others. One features a female homicide detective, also in New Orleans.
M. Ruth Myers writes the Maggie Sullivan mysteries featuring a woman P.I. in the 1930s/40s.