Long-running Historical Detective Fiction series by Barbara Hambly, detailing the crime-solving adventures of Benjamin January (or "Janvier" if you happen to be in the Vieux Carré) in New Orleans of the 1830s. Benjamin was born a slave in the Louisiana cane plantations, but his mother was purchased and freed as a placée (a status somewhere between wife and mistress, denoting a legal relationship between a white man and a woman of color) when he was still young; her benefactor also freed and educated her children into the bargain. As a result, January is trained as a surgeon and a concert pianist in Paris. He returns to New Orleans after the death of his wife, and promptly is thrown into webs of intrigue, politics and the occasional murder, along with his companions: dissolute Irish violinist Hannibal Sefton, Lt. Abishag Shaw of the New Orleans City Guard, and a motley roster of characters of all professions and colors.The series to date includes:
A Free Man of Color
Sold Down the River
Die Upon a Kiss
Days of the Dead
Dead and Buried
The Shirt On His Back
Good Man Friday
There are also several short stories, available for purchase on Hambly's website:
The Big Easy: Circa 1830, as seen through the eyes of the mixed-race population.
Black and Nerdy: Rose and her students. Arguably January fits the trope as well.
But Not Too Black: Discussed in detail. New Orleans' mixed-race society and all the divisions of color therewith feature prominently throughout the books. January himself, along with his full sister Olympe, is griffe (three-quarters black); his mother Livia is mulatto (half black), while his half-sister Dominique is quadroon (three-quarters white).
Dreaming The Truth: In Ran Away, Benjamin January dreams of his dead wife asking where Sabid is — which causes him to consider whether Sabid might actually be in New Orleans, making trouble again for the same man he attacked years ago.
French Jerk: The nefarious doings, general perfidy and lack of social class of "les sales Américains" (the dirty Americans) are frequent and popular subjects of discussion in New Orleans' Francophone community.
Kentucky Fried Genius: Abishag Shaw, despite looking like a hillbilly scarecrow, dressing like he hasn't two nickels to rub together, and talking like Huck Finn on steroids, also speaks fluent French and is an extraordinarily competent and honest police officer.
The Lost Lenore: Ayasha, the hero's wife, who died shortly before the beginning of the series. Eleven books and five years later, her (happily remarried) husband still mourns for her.
Magical Negro: A few people in the series, usually the Americans, actually view January this way. The concept of a black man being classically educated, as a surgeon no less, is utterly incomprehensible to people who think the only uses for black people are as field-hands and house servants. Hence, January is the go-to guy for everything from Mardi Gras costumes to murder mysteries.
Maligned Mixed Marriage: The system of placage, the term for a legal contracted relationship between a white man and a free woman of color. Placées occupy a status somewhere between wife and mistress, but they are frequently paid off and set aside when the white man in question marries. However, it's still expected that the man will educate and support any children that result from the match.
Murder by Mistake: Angelique Crozat in A Free Man of Color. This thoroughly confuses everything, since it's not until very late in the book that January realizes that he's trying to solve the wrong murder.
Drusilla d'Isola in Die Upon A Kiss is pretending to be Italian rather than colored.
The subject receives more focus in Dead and Buried as various people either threaten exposure or try to prevent the secret from getting out. It's made clear that exposure of someone who is passing will socially and financially ruin everyone in the family, even people who were not passing and had no idea what was going on.
Renaissance Man: Meet Benjamin January, Paris-trained surgeon, concert pianist and part-time detective. His buddies Hannibal Sefton and Abishag Shaw also fit the trope.
As a schoolteacher and natural scientist who grew up in the country, Rose's skills include translating Greek literature, making bombs, herding cows and, when necessary, shooting rifles. She also cleans up nicely.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Franz Bodenschatz a/k/a Frank Boden, in The Shirt On His Back was willing to kill hundreds of traders and trappers to get his revenge on the man who allegedly killed his sister in a fit of madness. When Shaw's brother winds up dead as a result of being caught in said Roaring Rampage, the crew leaves New Orleans and heads west to exact justice on his killer.
Sassy Black Woman: Olympe has a wicked sense of wit, and is not above tweaking her "downtown" brother about his white friends and cultured demeanor.
Scary Black Man: January can play himself off as this, being 6'3" and built like a brick outhouse. He usually doesn't, being fettered by the Code Noir, which among other things prevents anyone of color from striking or threatening harm on any white person.
Played straight with Big Lou in Die Upon a Kiss.
Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: January is Manly Man to Hannibal (by virtue of his size, strength and leadership skills) and Sensitive Guy to Shaw (since he's emotional and generally has a people-centred approach to any problem).
Unable To Support A Wife: January can't propose to Rose because they're too poor to set up a household. When they come into money, he does so immediately.
Uncle Tomfoolery: Heavily deconstructed. Several of the colored characters in the series intentionally play this to avoid white suspicion, and the difficulty of pretending to be an uneducated idiot for the benefit of an actual uneducated idiot who just happens to be white is discussed in detail.
Voudoun: Forms the background for Graveyard Dust. Olympe Janvier is a voodooienne, going by the name Olympe Snakebones. The real-life voodooienne Marie Laveau also shows up in this book. Elsewhere in the series, gris-gris and other voodoo talismans show up on a fairly regular basis, and colored characters may interchangeably invoke Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, and any of the old gods (Papa Legba is a favorite).
We Help the Helpless: Yup, that would be January and his friends again. The Faubourg Tremé Free Colored Militia and Burial Society, of which January is on the board of directors, also performs the same service within the demimonde - it's their role and subsequent intervention in a funeral gone wrong that kicks off Dead and Buried.