Sinner, Saint or Serpent
By John Anthony Miller
New Orleans, 1926
When a leading businessman is found murdered, investigative reporters Justice Harper, known for his fairness, and Remy Morel, his sassy counterpart, are determined to find the killer. There are three suspects, all prominent women in New Orleans society. The sinner is Blaze Barbeau, a real estate magnate with a checkered past. The saint is Lucinda Boyd, who lost her family business to the victim. And the serpent is a spooky voodoo queen named Belladonna Dede.
New Orleans, Louisiana
May 18, 1926 at 7:37 p.m.
August Chevalier sat in the parlor of his Royal Street mansion, eyes wide open, a bullet hole in the center of his forehead with a line of blood trailing down the bridge of his nose. He seemed surprised by death’s arrival, or by whoever delivered it, as if meeting his maker had been the farthest thing from his mind at the time.
I studied the body from the foyer, leaning against the white molding of the arched entrance, watching the investigation. The corpse sat on a Victorian couch, lavender with lion’s paws feet, a book lying askew beside it. The Prince, by Machiavelli, was a political discourse that supposedly gave good advice for handling enemies to business folks like Chevalier. He should have read it just a little bit sooner.
There was an Art Deco table in front of the couch with a glass top and floral wrought iron frame that matched the fence that circled the property. Chevalier’s left leg was stretched out beneath it, a nick on the sole of his Italian leather shoe. Like most rich folks, he wore expensive clothes – a silk blue shirt and darker slacks with barely a wrinkle in them.
Even though I had no right to be at the crime scene, I was there just the same. So I just kept looking around the room, scribbling notes on a pad I always carried with me. There was a small leather bag on the floor near the leg of the couch, just beside the body. The string keeping it closed had come undone, and there was a trail of gray powder, a few streaks of vermillion and chunks of something that looked like bones or small animal parts scattered across the Oriental carpet. I knew it was a gris-gris bag, a voodoo charm used to ward off evil or bring good luck – or any number of things that the creator might make for the purchaser. They were popular in New Orleans, especially among the superstitious. And even those that weren’t.
A grandfather’s clock stood against the far wall, a leather chair beside it, while a mahogany desk sat just under the side window. It was flanked by two cypress bookshelves, the spines of decorative leather volumes visible as you entered the room. A few papers were arranged real neat on the desktop, with a torn envelope and a folded letter that was a bit crumpled tossed near one edge. It looked recently opened, read and discarded, the contents perhaps not to the liking of the addressee. The writing on the envelope, visible from my location whereas the letter itself was not, showed fine penmanship, a swirling cursive with a flair for the dramatic, sex of the originator unknown. I leaned toward female. Most men I knew, including myself, were just not that neat.
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Sinner, Saint or Serpent
John Anthony Miller
John Anthony Miller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a father of English ancestry and a second-generation Italian mother. Motivated by a life-long love of travel and history, he normally sets his novels in exotic locations during eras of global conflict. Characters must cope and combat, overcoming their own weaknesses as well as the external influences spawned by tumultuous times. He’s the author of the historical thrillers, To Parts Unknown, In Satan’s Shadow, When Darkness Comes, All the King's Soldiers, and For Those Who Dare, as well as the historical mystery, Honour the Dead. His latest novel, Sinner, Saint or Serpent, is a jazz age murder mystery set in New Orleans. He lives in southern New Jersey with his family.