Report from Louisiana: Spring Reading

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It is spring (finally) and even though we all complain about Daylight Saving Time I don’t mind this one too badly because it now it won’t get dark at six o’clock every night. I like the longer days. For me, this time of year means working in the yard: that endless task of weeding and working flower beds back into shape. I know I must be doing this the hard way; it seems I’m starting from scratch almost every year. I need to figure out something low maintenance for some of these flowerbeds. 

This time of year also means seeing our neighbors again, spring cleaning, open windows, crawfish boils, and washing pollen off the car every day. 

As the days grow longer and we seem to find a little more leisure time, a lot of us are looking at the spring book releases and finding time to read.  I have a couple of recommendations, although neither are new releases.

I’ve just finished reading The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros which was originally published in 2009. I’m not sure I can adequately describe this book but it has thoroughly captivated me. The setting is 1891-1906 New Orleans and centers around a group of eclectic characters who were present in the home of a mob boss during a vodou ceremony performed by Noonday Morningstar; Mr. Morningstar has named his five children after diseases: Typhus, Cholera, Dropsy, Malaria, and Diptheria.  You see, Morningstar “saw life as a trial and death as a reward, a bridge to paradise,” and so these afflictions were simple a bridge to salvation. And besides, “diseases have such pretty names.”

The writing is lyrical and beautiful, the descriptions stunning, the plot fast paced. The characters are uniquely New Orleans. Once you read this you will never look at catfish the same way again. It is simply a beautiful, elegiac novel and has left me wanting to read everything Mr. Maistros writes. I highly recommend this book.

Here is a Kirkus Review if you’re curious and although I recognize this book is not to everyone’s sensibilities, it is a mesmerizing and rewarding read.

If a more conventional John-Grisham-type novel is more your style, you can’t go wrong with the novels of Michael Henry.  You have an entire series to work through here and it is an extremely rewarding romp through criminal justice in rural Mississippi through the eyes of protagonist Willie Mitchell Banks who begins the series as the District Attorney in Sunshine, the heart of the Mississippi Delta. If you’re a fan of Grisham, or James Lee Burke, or Michael Connelly, you’ll love Michael Henry.  You should start with Three Bad Years; I’m a stickler for reading a series in order, but it’s not required.

I’ve followed Willie Mitchell through all of the novels and his character continues to evolve and grow in each book.  He is as realistic and flawed a character as Burke’s Dave Robicheaux or Connelly’s Bosch, and his sidekick, Jimmy Gray, has all of the best one-liners.

Those are my top picks right at the moment.

Happy reading!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.