Cajun Nights begins in New Orleans, 1738 where a wealthy landowner by the name of Albair Fauquel is being hanged, along with his Haitian slave, Malaqua, for the crime of witchcraft - somehow causing a member of the community to murder his family and then commit suicide. Right before the gallows' trapdoor opens, Fauquel curses the judge and the people of the city, stating that he will come back and have his revenge, causing them to turn on one another and themselves. "Beware the songs you loved in youth" were the last words he uttered.
Fast-forward to present day New Orleans (well, 1989, when the book was first published) and Dr. Kit Franklyn has just started her new job at the New Orleans Board of Medical Examiners, working with the highly intelligent, rotund and quirky Dr. Andy Broussard. Kit is a psychologist whose job as the suicide investigator is to evaluate whether a death is a homicide or a suicide. Unfortunately, there seems to be a tremendous uptick in murder/suicides in the Crescent City.
Beginning with a father who burns his own home down with his family inside and continuing on to several apparent car accidents that don't seem quite accidental, Kit and Andy become determined to figure out what is going on. The circumstances surrounding each of the deaths are strange, to say the least, and when Kit discovers that a patient in the nursing home where she does pro bono work may have been involved in a similar situation some years before, she digs deeper yet. According to Broussard's dear Cajun friends Bubba Oustelette and Grandma O, this is all a result of Fauquel's curse from hundreds of years before, but Broussard bases his finding on fact, not ghost stories.
As he and Kit delve further into the mystery, it seems they are closing in on the culprit because they have several near misses themselves. Can they catch the killer before he catches up to them, or worse yet, unleashes this "curse" on the entire city?
Cajun Nights is an honest-to-God thrill ride from beginning to end. While it is a bit dated, since there are no cell phones and email as one would expect in a current mystery, it still doesn't miss a beat. Broussard is an endearing character, whether it is his gourmet foodie nature, his ever-present addiction to lemon balls, his gravelly ways or his fabulous collection of 1957 mint condition T-Birds. He's just fun to read about. Kit's a joy too, and she adds a nice balance to the mix. Phil Gatlin, lead New Orleans detective, is also introduced in the book and he becomes a staple in the series, although he has a rocky start in Cajun Nights due to some personal problems.
So far, Cajun Nights is my favorite in the Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn Mystery series to date, mostly because it combined a bit of mysticism with the straight up mystery we are used to in the series, which seems a funny thing to say since this was the first book. But if you are like me and have read some of the later books like Bad Karma in the Big Easy, Louisiana Fever or New Orleans Requiem, do yourself a huge favor and check out Cajun Nights to see how it all got started. Apparently, the ending had mixed reactions when the book first came out, but I for one absolutely loved it!