A contributor to EQMM for nearly a quarter of a century, O’Neil De Noux writes primarily in the crime-fiction genre but sometimes ventures into other genres such as science fiction. He is a winner of the Derringer and Shamus Awards, the author of twenty-three novels and several story collections, and an active member of the mystery community, having held offices in organizations such as the Private Eye Writers of America. O’Neil hails from New Orleans and knows the havoc hurricanes can wreak firsthand. At a time when our hearts go out to all of those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, his reflections on the earlier tragedy of Katrina seem appropriate. —Janet Hutchings
As Hurricane Irma approached Florida and the east coast, our friends in Texas continued to live through a catastrophic event, much like our friends in the northeast did in 2012 with Hurricane Sandy and our friends in Florida and south Louisiana did in 1992 with Hurricane Andrew and we did here in Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005 with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As y’all know—New Orleans was devastated by Katrina, flooded for weeks, its population run out of town and we don’t know the how many died. The New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper puts the number at 1,833.
New Orleans is not the same city after that catastrophe. Twelve years and we’re still recovering. But she thrives, an eternal city that cannot be destroyed by floods or fire (twice) or yellow fever epidemics, not by British or Yankee invader, not by the unforgiving wrath of Mother Nature.
Part of the recovery for some of us artists and writers came a year after Katrina when Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine put together my favorite issue of its long run, the November 2006 Issue—Salute to New Orleans.
It featured eleven stories portraying the city in various time periods. It also featured original art by New Orleans artists. Jenny Kahn painted an unforgettable cover. Herbert Kearney illustrated two stories while David Sullivan illustrated another two.
Also included is the haunting poem “Eternal Return” by James Sallis. To the city of New Orleans “where even the land beneath our feet is a lie.”
The stories include:
- “Libre” by Barbara Hambly, art by David Sullivan
Set before the Civil War, a libre is missing. Libre was a Spanish term for free people of color. Sometime-sleuth Benjamin January investigates in this uniquely Creole New Orleans mystery.
- “The Sugar Train” by Edward D. Hoch
In 1901, gunfighter Ben Snow is hired to protect the train hauling sugarcane along the private Sugar Belt Railroad.
- “The Death of Big Daddy” by Dick Lochte
Circa 1970 and a revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof draws Tennessee Williams and French Quarter bookshop owner Harold LeBlanc into a cozy murder mystery.
- “Dead Men’s Shirts” by Julie Smith, art by Herbert Kearney
Instead of a dirge, the brass band played party music at the funeral of a killer. His posse wore the killer’s Dead Man shirt with his picture and his birthday printed under “Thug-in” and date of his death printed under “Thug-out.” Thugs glorifying violence in the late 1990s. A heart wrenching story of one man’s stand against incessant violence.
- “Monday at the Pie Pie Club” by Tony Dunbar
A couple of strong-arm extortionists come to the Pie Pie Club to seek advice from owner Max Moran in a dispute over who should collect protection money from a French Quarter florist shop whose owner recently died. How? He was found floating in the Mississippi.
- “No Neutral Ground” by Sarah Shankman
University intrigue, streetcar rides and jealousy lead to a classic case of love and murder.
- “Acts of Contrition” by Greg Herren, art by Herbert Kearney
A serial killer stalks the French Quarter as a defrocked priest tries to help girls living on the street.
- “Evening Gold” by William Dylan Powell (Department of First Stories)
An offbeat story with a financially strapped writer, a dead skydiver carrying a satchel full of money, a house full of explosives, a state trooper who may or may not be the real thing, and a curious silky terrier.
- “Sneaky Pete from Bourbon Street” by John Edward Ames
Days before Katrina, Private Eye Reno Sloan investigates the murder of a kind soul known as Sneaky Pete who wrote novels in purple ink in cheap composition books.
- “When the Levees Break” by O’Neil De Noux, art by David Sullivan
Katrina’s destruction seen through the eyes of the decimated New Orleans Police Department where one officer learns nothing will be the same again.
- “The Code on the Door” by Tony Fennelly
Is there a way to conceal a murder in the middle of a natural disaster? Five months after Katrina, the water is gone and there is no electricity and codes painted on doors by the National Guard to indicate if anyone survived or died in a house are still there. Could the key to solving a crime be in one of those codes?
The Jury Box by Jon L. Breen reviewed recent New Orleans books: Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite, Tubby Meets Katrina by Tony Dunbar, Rampart Street by David Fulmer, New Orleans Confidential by O’Neil De Noux, Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke, Married to the Mop by Barbara Colley, Motif for Murder by Laura Childs, and Twisted by Jay Bonansinga.
Advertisement in the issue came from institutions assisting in the rebuilding and supporting the displaced, restitutions of libraries and cultural institutions—such as Covenant House, Save the Children, Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina Book Drive Reader to Reader, Inc., Bridge House, Volunteers of America, and Habitat for Humanity.
EQMM editor Janet Hutchings, in her A Word From the Editor, asked, “Will the New Orleans that emerges after Katrina be as inspiring to musicians, artists, and writers as NOLA before the storm?”
An emphatic YES is our answer. Maybe even more inspiring.