Kallie Riviere, a hoodoo rootworker, attends an annual witches’ carnival looking for some fun. She thinks she’s found it in the form of sexy nomad Gage, but before they can do the deed, Kallie passes out in the bathroom while Gage goes to bed alone. In the morning, Kallie finds Gage murdered, the victim of a hex that was laid on Kallie’s bed.
Before long, she has Gage’s disturbingly attractive clan brother knocking on her door looking for answers, the Hecatean Alliance (the witch organization behind the carnival) wanting to take her into protective custody, and a sneaking suspicion that she, not Gage, was the intended victim. This leads her to a mystery centering on her powerful aunt, Gabrielle LaRue.
Unusually for an urban fantasy, Adrian Phoenix switches the point of view among a number of characters. This includes the murderer, so that character’s identity is not the real mystery here; the big questions are whether the good guys will find the culprit before someone else gets killed and how it all ties in with Gabrielle.
The characters are kind of over-the-top, “larger than life” figures. Everyone is gorgeous and some (such as “Bond babe” Felicity Fields) are homages to action-movie archetypes. And boy, are they ever amorous. Thinking about sex, bantering about sex… there’s very little actual sexual activity in Black Dust Mambo, but there’s a whole lot of fantasizing. The constant horniness gets a little obnoxious in places, but it’s made up for by the fact that the characters are also funny. Everybody wisecracks all the time and it’s a great deal of fun for the reader.
The plot is exciting and makes use of well-researched voodoo and hoodoo lore. Especially clever is what Phoenix does with Kallie and her true nature. It’s implied that she’s something more than human, but we’re not told what until much later. There’s a really subtle little clue planted early in the book. Blink and you’ll miss it. (I did. I spent most of the book thinking her supernatural secret was something completely different. The significance of the clue dawned on me in retrospect, several hours after finishing the book, and suddenly I was feverishly scrambling back through the pages to see if I’d remembered it correctly.)
Black Dust Mambo doesn’t make as much use of the New Orleans setting as one might expect. In fact, most of the book takes place in a hotel. Yet the atmosphere of New Orleans is still pervasive, and the ending implies that we’ll be seeing much more of the setting in future installments. I’ll definitely be “tuning in” for these. I really enjoyed Black Dust Mambo and I look forward to seeing what Adrian Phoenix, and Kallie Riviere, do next.