The Quarter Storm by Veronica G. Henry
Mambo Reina Dumond is a Vodou practitioner, a servant of the lwa Erzulie, whose domain comprises river waters, healing and love. Born in Haiti, Reina moved with her family to the USA when she was a child, and now she lives and practices her tradition in New Orleans. Reina’s life is beset by mundane struggles—like getting paid for her sessions or having a bad hair day—until a brutal mutilation-murder in the French Quarter seems to point to a fellow vodouisant, Mambo Salimah. When Reina starts to investigate, she faces wall after wall of obstacles, some of which threaten her safety and her life.
The Quarter Storm (2022), by Veronica G. Henry is Book One of the MAMBO REINA series. I really enjoyed this protagonist. Reina is a little older than the average “urban fantasy” heroine. I don’t really know how old she is, but she’s clearly not a twenty-something. I enjoyed the secondary characters; Tyka, a virtually homeless young woman who makes a living fighting; Darryl “Sweet Belly” who owns the local bar that is information central; her neighbor Ms. Lucy, and even the arrogant self-designated “high priest” of New Orleans Vodou, Alexander Lucien. I won’t say I liked Lucien, but he’s vivid and convincing. I loved the degree of detail Veronica Henry applies to the practice of Vodou. The setting is fully convincing. Rather than give us the “snapshot” of New Orleans and the French Quarter, Reina shares a more geographical approach to the city. The story takes us into neighborhoods we usually don’t hear much about.
Even though Hurricane Katrina happened sixteen years ago, plays a big part in this book.
As the story progresses, I was not surprised that both the New Orleans Police Department and various practitioners, including Lucien and her own father, warn Reina off. The idea that there is a conspiracy or some scheme being protected at the cost of Mambo Salimah is well-developed. While I was reading, I chafed under the pace of the book. Now that I’ve finished it, I think the pacing problem traces back in part to plotting problems.
Reina is a powerful servant of a powerful lwa, but in the first half of this book, as a Black Haitian-American in New Orleans, she is literally powerless against mundane power structures. She is not passive, but most of her early actions involve going to men, asking for help, and being refused. Reina’s home life fills about half the book. It’s important, because a few clues seep into that life—and Henry uses Reina’s life to show how her community pulls together even with almost no material advantages. Still, there may be a bit too much of it in a story devoted to solving a mystery—and the first book of a series.
At other times, Reina misses the boat as a “detective.” In one case, she is literally handed a clue, which she ignores for a good chunk of time. Much of the time, people come to her (for sessions) and drop clues into the conversation. This may be a choice, again, to show us a community using the resources it has.
The pacing problems fell away in the final third of the book, when Reina puts the pieces together and confronts the villain in a thrilling cemetery-based encounter. After the climax, we also learn a bit more about Reina’s power, when she shares what she did during Katrina.
(A quibble: Hurricane Katrina make landfall in 2005. Reina says that the storm happened “ten years ago.” I wish the story had been placed in that time period (2015ish) much sooner. As a reader, without any time markers I default to the present. This created a few moments of distraction throughout the book.)
The Quarter Storm is not meant to be a comic story but there are intentionally funny moments, and one that made me laugh out loud is when Reina tries to cook a meal. I laughed, but I felt a real moment of kinship with her reading that passage.
The Quarter Storm carries a lot of weight as the introduction of a series. Mambo Reina has engaged me, and I will definitely read more of this series. Frankly, at this point I’ll read anything Veronica G. Henry puts out there.