In keeping with my new interest in the South and Southern writers, my Mystery Monday novel takes place in the South although Mary Ellis is a northerner with some Southern connections. This first in a new series by Ms. Ellis is classed as a romantic suspense — “mystery with a good dose of romance thrown in”.
Midnight on the Mississippi starts right in with no preamble. I like that. Right away, we meet Hunter Galen who’s shouting into his cellphone in the grand salon of the SV Queen Antoinette in the middle of Lake Pontchartrain in Southeastern Louisiana where family and friends are celebrating his mother’s 60th birthday. His partner, James Nowak, is on the other end of the call but reception is bad. The party includes the wealthiest society people in New Orleans, many of them clients of Hunter and James’ investment firm. Galen and his brother Ethan, and sister Chloe, have given the sailing yacht they are on to Mama for her birthday. We are talking WEALTHY!
Still unable to hear James because of the poor reception, but aware that he’s upset, Hunter takes a tender ashore and races to the office, only to find James dead, a pistol beside his hand, and the police sirens wailing closer and closer. Yep, he picks up the gun and is holding it when they arrived.
Hunter’s old college roommate, Nathan Price, will be on the case, but just as he’s getting ready to head out to meet Hunter, his cousin Nicolette Price shows up complete with P.I. License, license to practice in Louisiana, and a permit to carry expected any day. She wants in on the case to gain experience. (Also, to have a decent pay cheque to send money home to her ill mother in Natchez.) In a bold move, Nicki tails Nathan to the meeting, gets spotted, hits it off with Hunter, and gets hired. When cousin Nate gets arrested on a trumped up charge of interfering with an investigation, it’s up to Nicki to help clear Hunter of fraud and murder charges, and to tiptoe around Hunter’s high fashion, soon-to-be fiancé who is making jealous noises.
This is a complicated mystery involving forgery, double company books, misadventures in swamps, and attempts on Nicki’s life. In her spare time, straightforward Nicki wants to be a tourist in New Orleans, but she also wants to use her newly acquired credentials to look into the 17-year-old murder of her father who went to a cabin in the bayou with his brother, his two brothers-in-law, and three shady characters he’d “met in a bar in Clay Creek”. He disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and was found five days later, partially eaten by fish and alligators. Despite the fact that Nicki had always been told it was an accidental death, when she finally sees the official file, it’s classed as a ‘cold case’.
As Nicki begins proving her competence to Hunter, he begins to appreciate her refreshing “honesty and lack of artifice almost as appealing as her great legs and stunning smile”. In addition, Hunter begins to learn new, unappetizing things about both his partner and his fiancé. When he’s arrested by feds for fraud, Nicki moves heaven and earth to prove his innocence.
There are lots of twists in this plot, and lots of soul searching for both Hunter and Nicki, before the murderers are apprehended, and both characters figure out what the future might hold. This novel was lots of fun to try to figure out — lots of suspects because of the fraud, and lots of possible motives from the various lines of inquiry. I thoroughly enjoyed the colour added by the French Quarter of New Orleans, Bourbon St., and the various settings in the swamps and bayous around the city. A very fast read. * * * *
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.