Fever Moon by Carolyn Haines. Reviewed by Kris Harding.
According to the jacket blurb, Haines, a Mississippi-born writer now living in Alabama, is known for cozy Southern mysteries. There is absolutely nothing cozy about this book; it’s gripping, mysterious, intense, a page turner that will have you looking over your shoulder at night wondering what’s in the shadows.
Set during the Second World War in New Iberia, the book explores the darker side of the South. With so many of their young men, husbands and fathers off in service, the townspeople are already living under much strain. The brutal murder of Henri Bastion, the richest man in town, brings to life the legend of the loup garou (the Cajun equivalent of a werewolf.) Many are convinced the blood covered woman found over the body is one of these shape-shifters. Adele Hebert comes from an eccentric swamp family. Her sister, a recent suicide, showed signs of stigmata, and her brother along with his pack of vicious dogs leads hunts for ferocious wild boars deep in the swamp. Adele does act like some half-wild thing, but she’s likely to die from an inexplicable fever before she can tell her side of the story.
Deputy Raymond Thibodeaux, convinced of the girl’s innocence, is in a race to find the real killer before local superstition and fear result in a lynch mob. Raymond, wounded both physically and psychologically by his time in the service, is determined to save this woman partly as atonement for his inability to protect his younger brother overseas. Though he returned to his hometown on the bayou after he was wounded, he’s cut himself off from his family and most social interactions.
This damaged hero is one of a cast of complex characters that Haines creates in this book. The priest is having a crisis of faith. The sheriff is more interested in politicking than law. The doctor, who lives in a gracious antebellum home, is ill-equipped to prove by autopsy what killed the man who was practically decapitated and partially eviscerated. Madame Louiselle, a traiteur who heals with herbs and prayer, struggles to keep Adele alive. The postmistress, an educated, independent woman whom many feel took a job a man should have gotten, shares information she picks up in her rounds of the parish. A sadistic man runs the prison labor on the dead man’s cane plantation, and there’s something definitely off about the widow and her children. An affable anthropology professor from LSU, who comes to town to study the effects of myth on the social dynamic, may hold the key to the mystery.
Many people may have had reason to kill Bastion, a brutal man who held power over many, Raymond has no dearth of suspects, but he must solve the puzzle of Adele Hebert before the frightened town comes to a boil. The reader is hard-pressed to figure this one out as Raymond follows thread after thread.
Long held secrets will slowly be revealed. Some of the large cast of characters will find redemption or a new direction and purpose to their lives. It’s a powerful story told in compelling prose. I recommend this book heartily.