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Saturday, May 31, 2014

ARC Review: Bad Karma in the Big Easy by D.J. Donaldson

Fair warning: D.J. Donaldson’s BAD KARMA IN THE BIG EASY (henceforth KARMA) is most definitely NOT a romance novel—it’s a straight-up mystery of the forensic persuasion. Before I discovered romance, crime fiction was my crack and Agatha Christie my dealer, so it’s no surprise that I sometimes take a break from sexytimes to return to my reading roots… even if I now favour forensics over the police procedural (Bones is one of the few television shows I watch). KARMA is in fact the (new) seventh entry in an old series of mysteries that feature the (sort of) crime-fighting team of New Orleans chief medical examiner Andy Broussard and forensic psychologist/suicide investigator Kit Franklyn, but it can be read and enjoyed as a standalone. Though not a lighthearted read—it’s set in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, features some truly disturbing crimes, and includes fairly graphic descriptions of procedures done on cadavers for autopsy and identification purposes—KARMA is an engaging mystery written in a breezy, approachable style that made the pages seemingly melt away and had me repeatedly going for “just one more chapter”.

KARMA opens with Broussard finally able to take a breather from the round-the-clock work of putting names to the more than 800 bodies left in Katrina’s wake and delve more deeply into three bodies that have piqued his interest: young, naked, with little visible evidence of drowning and antemortem bruises near the nose and mouth, and found together in the floodwaters of the Ninth Ward. At the same time, Kit Franklyn is called to the scene of a gruesome suspected suicide and tasked with determining whether foul play was involved. What begins as two separate investigations quickly turns into a tangled web of WTFery (of the ‘this-is-so-messed-up-but-scarily-plausible’ kind, not the ‘what-was-the-author-smoking’ kind) that has Kit and Broussard and their merry band of sidekicks running all over Orleans Parish trying to piece the case together for the extremely short-staffed NOPD and bringing us along for the ride.

The mystery itself is entertaining (and disturbing), but where Mr. Donaldson excels is in bringing the setting to life with stunning realism. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but Mr. Donaldson’s descriptions make me feel as though I’ve experienced not only the vibrancy of the city but also the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the fear that part of New Orleans’s quintessential essence was irrevocably damaged. The same applies to the characters: KARMA was my first encounter with Kit and Broussard and the rest of the gang, and I’m sure they’ve grown by leaps and bounds since the first novel was published in 1989, but it’s incredibly accessible to new readers. I felt like I’d been dropped straight into the midst of an incredibly approachable group of quirky characters, any of whom I could readily befriend. I thoroughly enjoyed how Broussard is the antithesis of a romance hero: hugely overweight (to the point where it’s a mystery how he gets into and out of his trademark Thunderbirds!), up there in years, infuriatingly cerebral, and an intellectual snob who may be losing his keen cognitive edge. A refreshing change from the alpha Adonises with incredibly buff physiques that populate most romance novels! I want him to be my quirky bowtie-wearing uncle. But for all his apparent antihero-ness, Broussard has a deep hatred of murderers (surely explained in a previous entry in the series?) and a passion for getting justice for the victims that humanize him and make him a sympathetic character. Kit is a great foil for Broussard, tempering his rationality with bubbling emotion and struggling more openly with her sense of self and the havoc Katrina has wrought. Despite a bout of what she views as cowardice after a near-death experience disturbs her equilibrium, Kit is intelligent, kickass, and committed to her work—my favourite type of heroine.

BAD KARMA IN THE BIG EASY is a quick read for those looking for a well-plotted mystery heavily steeped in forensic pathology. Despite being the latest in a long-running series, it can be read as a standalone and serves as a great introduction to the New Orleans of Andy Broussard and Kit Franklyn, who are kind of like the Holmes and Watson of forensics. I look forward to checking out the earlier books in the series, or Mr. Donaldson’s medical thrillers, for my next break from reading romance.

**ARC provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | B&N | Kobo |


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