Hambly may have faltered a little in her last novel Wet Grave, but she redeems herself in her latest novel in the Benjamin January series in which she uses Aztec mythology to construct a locked room murder mystery set in 19th century Mexico City. The events in Days of the Day, the seventh novel in the series, are played out against the background of Santa Anna preparing an army to fight the Texans.
The buried treasure they recovered during their last adventure allowed amateur detective Benjamin January and his new wife Rose to become moderately wealthy. Thus, when they receive a letter requesting help from their friend Hannibal Sefton, they can afford to travel to Mexico City to rescue him. He is a consumptive Irishman who self-medicates with whiskey laudanum, plays the violin with Ben at the balls in New Orleans, and is fond of quoting Shakespeare and other European poets. When the opera he and Benjamin were playing for in Wet Grave ended, he left New Orleans with the ballerina Consuela Montero, one of the daughters of the powerful, Don Prospero de Castellon, for Mexico City.
Hannibal, who was the last person seen with the mad Don Prosperos’s only living son Fernando and appeared to be handing him a drink, is accused of murdering him. The Mad Don is holding Hannibal a virtual prisoner until he can visit his son’s grave during the “Days of the Dead” festival and learn from Fernando who killed him. Hannibal also faces a threat from Captain Francisco Ylario of the civil guards who wants to capture and hang him without any prove other than everyone believes Hannibal is the murderer.
When Benjamin is accused of killing the Mad Don’s cook, he knows he is getting close to exposing the murderer. But to continue his investigation, he has to remain alive. An enraged Don Prosperos comes after him with a shotgun. Benjamin escapes from the Don’s vaqueros and hides in the Pyramid of the Dead. Rose joins him later, and they, or rather Benjamin, concocts a plan based on his knowledge of voodoo that he hopes will influence Don Prosperos’s decision on Hannibal when the Don comes to the Pyramid on the Day of the Dead festival to talk with his dead son.
As always, Hambly’s research is thorough and comprehensive. Combining the mystery genre, the thriller genre, and the historical genre is her major strength. In Days of the Day, the three genres come together in a story that holds the interest right up to the end.
For me, though not for Benjamin and Rose considering the dangers they face in Mexico, getting out of the heat and filth of New Orleans was a relief, especially since it afforded me the opportunity to learn about a different culture.