Here is a review of David Fulmer’s novel “Rampart Street” from the the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 288). The book has since this review was published, has been issued in paperback and Harcourt has subsequently published Fulmer’s The Dying Crapshooter’s Blues, an excellent mystery set around thirties Atlanta and Blind Willie McTell, and several other novels including a new Valentin St. Cyr novel, Lost River, which I have not read. I believe I received a review copy of Rampart Street from the publisher. BTW, I previously blogged my review of The Dying Crapshooter's Blues.
About a year ago I picked up a paperback by Atlanta based David Fulmer, Chasing the Devil’s Tail. It was a mystery set in New Orleans of the early part of the century and featured a Creole of color, Valentin St. Cyr as its main character. St. Cyr was a one-time New Orleans policeman who left the force and began working for Tom Anderson, the King of Storyville, who owned a legendary cafe in “The District.” In a novel populated with Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden, at a time right after the Supreme Court’s infamous opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, St. Cyr solves the Black Rose murders of some of the District’s working ladies. By the time of the second volume, Jass, Buddy Bolden has been institutionalized and the members of a jazz band are being murdered. Everyone seems to want him not to solve the case except the musicians and after the case is solved St. Cyr leaves New Orleans.
Rampart Street takes place a year and a half after the events in Jass, and has somehow gotten back in the good graces of Tom Anderson, working Anderson’s, bar but somehow someone disinterested in handling the pickpockets, card sharks and other predators as he had a few years before. A prominent New Orleans businessman is found murdered on Rampart Street, at the time the back end of the city where such a man would not have been found and an alderman goes to Anderson to have St. Cyr try to find the killer on behalf of the businessman’s daughter. Not that they want him to actually solve the case. Its better that the death quickly get forgotten, so no one but the daughter or St. Cyr want him to really solve the case. A street criminal is picked up and charged with the murder, but the evidence of the bullet wound and the lack of the powder burn does not support this being a case of a street robbery.
St. Cyr seems to have everybody working against him and more people get killed around him including the person at the Picuyane’s morgue who had been helping St. Cyr in trying to unravel the series of murders. Unlike the earlier novels, Jelly Roll Morton is now in Chicago and jazz has a lower profile than in the earlier novels. Yet, the Sicilian grocery and saloon owner, whose place St. Cyr has a room at, features a jazz band in the saloon and Beansoup, the street kid who had been assisting St. Cyr and had been in the waif’s home at the same time as Louis Armstrong, is now playing harmonica in Jackson Square behind Charlie Jackson, a blues singer and guitarist who performs’Duncan and Brady, a ballad about an altercation between a saloon keeper and a sheriff in East St. Louis.
Fulmer continues to develop his characters and weaves the story together in a compelling fashion. I could not put this down after starting it or the two earlier novels. He really brings this long gone period to life in all three of these excellent books. If you like mysteries, you certainly might read Chasing the Devil’s Tail first (it and Jass are currently available in paperback) and if you enjoy it (as I suspect you will), you will dig into the sequels including Rampart Street. The Valentin St. Cyr mysteries certainly are absorbing.