Talba Wallis
Created by Julie Smith

Julie Smith, already a favourite of many crime readers due to her other series, takes a good, solid whack at the P.I. genre with Louisiana Hotshot, the first of a proposed series featuring New Orleans gumshoe TALBA WALLIS.

Talba is a fragrant blast of fresh air in the predictable swamp of eyes that all smell the same. For one thing she's only in her early twenties, and still lives with her mother -- I can't think of many P.I.s who can (or would) claim that. Yet it's a great relationship. Her mother, known locally as Miz Clara, is almost as great a character as her daughter.

For another, Talba's delightfully schizophrenic, as though she hasn't quite figured out what she wants to do with her life. She's one hell of a computer whiz, and cocky as hell about it (she's the self-proclaimed "hotshot" of the title). By her own admission, she's easily bored. That's the excuse she gives for quitting her cushy job at United Oil: "pure boredom."

But Talba is also a poet, giving to word-slinging at some of the city's smokiest and funkiest cafés under the pen name of Baroness de Pontalba. She even gets a thrill from living with her mom on a block "poetically situated" between Piety and Desire.

But poetry doesn't put the gumbo on the table, so, at her mother's urging, she answers a classified ad in the Times-Picayune. It seems Eddie Valentino, of E.V. Anthony Investigations Service, a cranky old Italian private eye transplanted from New Jersey, with not much use for anyone, much less a black, poetry-spouting flake like Talba, is in dire need of someone who can "play the piano like Horowitz played piano."

Shucking any false modesty, Talba applies for the gig. Before she knows it, she's assigned her first assignment -- a nasty case of a young girl named Cassandra who's apparently being preyed upon by a rap star's hanger-on, but that only serves as a catalyst to an even more private investigation --the nasty little secrets that lie in the half-forgotten darkness of Talba's own life.

Talba was first introduced in the Skip Langdon book 82 Desire (1998), and more than one critic made a point at the time of mentioning how Talba deserved her own book. Well, Smith has delivered -- in spades. The mismatched team of Talba and Eddie is one well worth watching, and Smith's colourful take on New Orleans is one that goes far beyond the well-traveled tourist trail.

Julie Smith is a former journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle and New Orleans Times-Picayune, and the author of over a dozen mystery novels. The kick-off novel in the NOPD officer Skip Langdon series, New Orleans Mourning, won an Edgar for Best Novel. She also has series about mystery writer/amateur sleuth Paul MacDonald and San Francisco lawyer Rebecca Schwartz.

UNDER OATH

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Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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