The first time I visited New Orleans was for a book fair, the now renamed BookExpo USA, then the ABA, which at the time moved yearly between American cities.
Somehow, then, my knowledge of New Orleans was patchy, focused more on the heavy drinking and jazz culture. However, I’m a non-drinker (purely because of taste, I assure you, and no principles involved whatsoever; anyway, who ever said I had principles!), and to compound matters have never been much of a jazz fan, being an unreconstructed rock’n’roll addict (I even saw the Beatles live when I was younger; emphasis on ‘saw’ as I could hear nothing because of all the screaming in the venue, the Olympia Theatre in Paris).
So the charms, smells, atmosphere and magic of New Orleans came as a major surprise, and I couldn’t find enough time outside of the book fair to wander around and breathe in the air and savour the French Quarter. Legendary parties in quaint colonial houses, book launches at the Museum and the feverish, rich brew of emotions and food and sounds of the city had to be rationed.
As I flew out after the fair I made myself a promise I’d return.
Which I have done now on several dozen occasions. Once every couple of years, we even go there for New Year’s Eve to enjoy our meal at Tujague’s and watch the fireworks on the Mississippi and the celebrations in Jackson Square from their first floor balcony,
I’ve been for Mardi Gras (too crowded), the jazz festival, in spring, summer and winter and always find new things to discover and enjoy in addition to making good friends there amongst the local crime writing community and spending hours on end looking out for gems in the now quickly disappearing second hand bookshops where you once could still find old pulp magazines or vintage paperbacks for bargain prices.
I’m no longer just a tourist and have ventured beyond the Vieux Carre to the Garden District and all the way through the Financial District down Magazine Street. I feel like a local at times. And don’t even mention the food: gumbo at Desire, oysters at the Acme Bar or the Pearl mentioned by James Lee Burke in so many Robicheaux novels, the spices and fragrances of the best jambalaya, the po’boys at the Napoleon House. I could rhapsodize for hours.
I’m even proud of the fact that I am the only non-New Orleans born and bred writer in the ‘Erotic New Orleans’ volume, edited by my friend Debb De Noux and the fact that her husband O’Neil, who was once a Lieutenant in the New Orleans Police Dept and a fine crime author in his own right, once asked me late into a dinner by Lake Ponchartrain in a restaurant on stilts that didn’t alas survive Katrina how I knew of a certain louche club he and his colleagues on the force had often heard of but never located in a specific area of the French Quarter and which I had featured in a rather incendiary short story, only for me to have to admit I had simply invented it, but reckoned the location was right for it!
I’ve written a handful of stories set there and even lengthy sections in some past novels, including in some of my pseudonymous erotica (because how can the atmosphere of New Orleans not be an invitation to erotica?).
So, it was inevitable that the city and its magic would feature prominently in my new novel ‘The Louisiana Republic’, my first book under my own name in 5 years, following a profitable intermezzo writing in another genre as a woman (but that’s another story altogether). How could I not return to New Orleans?
It’s the near future and a global catastrophe called ‘the Dark’ has created chaos, and in the USA some states have declared unilateral independence, Louisiana amongst them.
Our hapless ‘hero’, once a modest researcher and now an involuntary private eye goes seeking for the errant daughter of a New York crime king and the trail leads him to New Orleans, which is cut off from the rest of the country, where he is faced with uncomfortable answers in his quest for not just one missing woman but two. The magic weaves its spell, there is sex, there is violence, there are tears, there are supernatural powers at play. Will he ever be the same at the end of the tale?
Another tender nod to a city I love. And not just for the oysters…
LOUISIANA REPUBLIC by Maxim Jakubowski is available from Amazon