Juxtaposing corruption and charm, elegance and destruction in post-Katrina New Orleans, Kovacs’ mystery begins in the chaos of the hurricane. Five months later, the death of his friend Sam Sui, owner of the Tiki Hut, has only become more muddled by a cold trail and the obfuscations of parties with a vested interest in the crime being swept up with the rest of the debris.
Former cop and martial arts trainer Cliff St. James is currently taking shelter in his badly-damaged dojo, his last student slipping away, out of funds and barely surviving day to day. His last night on the job, he was called to the scene of Sam’s murder, the club’s safe open and fellow detective Dice McCarty scrolling through Sam’s laptop. Then Katrina hit.
Now that all evidence is likely demolished, Sam Sui’s daughter, Twee, arrives at the dojo one morning, offering St. James a tempting sum to investigate Sam’s death. A new PI license in his pocket, Cliff begins to sort through the random pieces of Sam’s life: his friends and enemies, a long list that includes the man’s past as a pilot in the Vietnam War and the lucrative years Sam owned the Tiki Hut. There is no shortage of suspects—too many, in fact. Before long, Cliff realizes he will welcome any assistance by old friend Sgt. Honey Baybee, a feisty cop who never turns her back on a fight whose contacts in the department are critical to Cliff’s investigation.
Climbing over debris, both literal and figurative, that has accumulated since Sam’s murder, St. James realizes he doesn’t know much about his new client, let alone the list of folks he still needs to interview. Before long, he’s facing down an Asian street gang, smooth-talking his way into introductions to the city’s movers and shakers (including an ex-mayor being investigated by the FBI) and anxious to avoid the notice of a powerful ex-CIA operative—if anyone is ever really ex-CIA. There are multiple layers to this murder and too many players to second-guess, as St. James and Sgt. Baybee sneak around gathering information of the kind of heavy-hitters that can inflict serious damage if they’re discovered.
The story is fast-paced, filled with the usual eccentric characters you would expect to find in the Big Easy, but the best part of the novel is the author’s perspective on the ruined city in the aftermath of destruction. The grifters, opportunists and agencies flock to an area with too much redevelopment money and too many crooks to steal it from those who need help the most: “A collective pathology of quasi post-traumatic stress hung like a cloud over the delta.” It’s business as usual in the New Normal of New Orleans, but St. James is determined to solve this case, exposing more than one double-dealer along the way. What better place to set a murky murder mystery than the ravaged city crawling with sewer rats, both animal and human.