A Free Man of Color

A Free Man of Color

Book - 1997
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A historical mystery in 1830s New Orleans whose protagonist is a free man of color. Dr. Benjamin January, back in America after 15 years in Paris where he became a surgeon, goes to the help of a woman. In revenge, he is framed by her enemies for murder and must clear his name. A look at the complicated race relations of the period in New Orleans.
Publisher: New York : Bantam Books, 1997.
ISBN: 9780553102581
Branch Call Number: HAMBLY B
Characteristics: 311 pages ; 24 cm.


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CMLibrary_gjd_0 Feb 11, 2016

First in Series:
This book introduces Benjamin January, a free man of color living in 1830’s New Orleans. Ben has been trained as a physician in France, but can only find work as a musician stateside. He also dabbles in mystery solving for his friends and neighbors in the Free Colored Society. Join Ben and his select group of friends in their adventures; you’ll be glad you did!

hania4987 Feb 14, 2014

I would classify this more as a historical novel versus a mystery; the mystery is incidental to the richly meticulous portrait Hambly paints of New Orleans Creole life with its convoluted maze of social (and legal) customs and traditions. But that life is itself being threatened and slowly eroded. New Orleans is now part of the Antebellum South and falls under rules and laws that don't always recognize the established ways of Creole society. This is the world to which Benjamin Janvier (January) returns. He is an anomaly, a free man with very dark skin. An educated man, trained as a surgeon and an accomplished musician and teacher, he is currently working as a transient piano player and giving lessons because he is not allowed to practice medicine. Although he was not fully accepted in Parisian society, he was able to practice his profession in a charity hospital and not have his status questioned. After losing his wife, a Moroccan Christian, Benjamin returns to his home and family with great reservations. "In New Orleans he was a man of color, an uneasy sojourner in a world increasingly American, hostile, and white. But he was what he was." This book touches on so many issues and raises many questions -- things we are still grappling with -- which makes it timeless.

Jan 19, 2012

After reading the historical mystery, A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly, I was of two minds about this book. Part of me was disappointed in the overall slowness of how the story developed. For a relatively short book (311 pages), it read as a much longer one. Set in New Orleans in 1833, the author painstakingly set the scene and put a lot of effort into our understanding of the caste system, based on color, that existed in those days. This is a first book in a series, so there were quite a few characters to be introduced and placed in the story. The main character, Benjamin January, is a likeable, competent hero, and I found most of the secondary characters appealing as well.

About halfway through the book, the story did pick up and I got more involved in the actual mystery. The ending was satisfactory and wrapped up most of the story lines. Through the whole book, however, I always felt that New Orleans itself was the author’s main focus and the mystery was secondary.

I will definitely try the second book in this series in the hope that the author takes as much time to flesh out the characters as she did in this book with the setting. In Ben January, a free black man, trained as a surgeon and working as a musician, she has a character worth developing. This author is great at delivering the history, I also hope that she delivers on the mystery next time as well.

Feb 14, 2007

Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January mystery series is excellent. Benjamin January is a free man of color, an American-born, Parisian-trained doctor who makes his living as a musician in 1830s New Orleans. Ms. Hambly's period detail and writing style make the books feel contemporary. Highly recommend.


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