|Vampires are a dime-a-dozen these days. Now, apparently, we’ve moved on to werewolves. Werewolves in New Orleans. Lucky beasties: what with Katrina fallout and the return of uninhibited, boisterous Mardi Gras, they can almost go unnoticed.
It appears that they have gone practically unnoticed until Anne Lockhart arrives looking for her missing sister. Katie had been missing for three years when Anne received a photo of her standing in front of a nightclub in the Big Easy. Anne is going to check out this clue, which isn’t a big leap for her – she had gone to work for the private detective hunting for Katie and eventually took over his business and continued the investigation. Anne has never forgiven herself for her sister’s disappearance, which came on the heels of one of those pointless sister fights where ridiculous, forgettable and forgivable things are said – like that you look forward to wearing her bracelet when she’s dead – which would be forgettable and forgivable if those weren’t the last words you said to her. Anne follows the photo clue to the Rising Moon nightclub. She doesn’t find Katie, but she does find a mysterious, compelling, blind jazzman, John Rodolfo, who happens to own the place.
And John is one seriously mysterious dude. He seems to live at the nightclub, but not really; he comes and goes and disappears – pretty much literally – at will. He covers his sightless eyes with sunglasses, but insists on having the lights off or dimmed anyway. He seems to be victim to an unusual number of accidents and crimes that leave him bloodied and bruised, and his wounds heal unusually fast. When he’s playing at the club, the crowds are thick, but there is no way of knowing if he’s going to show up and play. He has King, the bartender/club manager who seems to mostly take care of business, but there is one untidy bit of business that can’t be handled: there have been a couple dozen murders and disappearances recently, and the last place a number of the victims were seen? The Rising Moon. Oh, and many of them died around the time of a full moon.
There is a nice, attractive detective on the case – Sullivan – who thinks it’s pretty much impossible that Rodolfo isn’t involved somehow. He and Anne decide that she can investigate in ways that he can’t, so she goes undercover as a waitress, a job that comes with the use of a bedroom above the bar.
Mysterious John and PI Anne have a serious mutual attraction. Sullivan has an unrequited jones for Anne. Things are hoping from the get-go – animals slinking around in dark alleys, voodoo altars and gris-gris charms appearing, crispy-fried bodies turning up all around town.
There’s a lot going on here, and for a while it’s pretty entertaining and engrossing. Then, as we gallop toward the conclusion, it just gets waaaaaay too confusing. When a story’s conclusion requires that a bunch of people stand around explaining things to each other, that’s a good clue that something was missing before. Lots of the information dump at the end is flat brand new – that there are werewolves in three varieties: born, cursed and made, plus two types of loup-garous with different originations and powers, and shapeshifters, too – and this requires about a half-dozen new characters appear to wrap it all up. That’s just lazy, and unfortunately so, as the story got off to such a crackling start.
This could have been redeemed if the characters had made more sense. Anne, for example, seemed mighty hard-boiled for a mere 23. Her single-minded devotion to her lost cause lost sister doesn’t make much sense – tragic loss, sure, but would she feel so responsible that she would drop out of college and become a PI? And John? There’s mysterious, then there’s mysterious. He is so the guy your mother warned you about. If he isn’t a werewolf, he’s probably a con man, a parolee, or just plain married. And his physical description – long and lean, mustachioed and goateed, cigarillo-smoking, outweighing the girl by a mere 30 pounds? Nope, not for me. Sullivan, the big cuddly bear? That would work. And then there are the sunglasses; if they were described anywhere, I missed it. Not being able to visualize them became more and more of a distraction, particularly during the love scenes. Really, it’s just not sexy to keep the shades on. Don’t they get in the way?
The New Orleans setting, too, raises issues: like post 9/11 New York, New Orleans is not a locale to be used lightly. It is difficult to become engrossed when the image of the Convention Center lurks in memory – and difficult to like a character who can visit the city without much mention or notice of it.
Finally, there is the common annoyance with supernatural genre stories – no one seems all that freaked out that there are werewolves in our midst. Werewolves, folks! Come on, that means the world as we know it has ceased to exist! Folks seem pretty sanguine about it. Even in the Big Easy, wouldn’t this rate more of a notice?