Wages of Sin by Penelope Williamson (2004) is a book I’ve been wanting to read since finishing “Mortal Sins” years ago. The series mainly follows homicide detective Daman Rourke and his movie star girlfriend, Remy LeLourie.
In the first book, “Mortal Sins,” the story was about a Hollywood star, Remy Lelourie, returning home to New Orleans and facing murder charges. Her former lover, Daman Rourke, was the lead investigator on the case and the one who exonerates her to the disgust of his partner, Fio. Now, six months later, after getting his woman back, Rourke is investigating the murder of a priest that promises to reveal the dirty little secrets of some powerful people, rich and poor alike.
New Orleans comes vibrantly to life thanks to Ms. Williamson’s imagination. The story mainly takes place during the late 1920’s. When I think of New Orleans, the first thing that comes to mind is the music, the speakeasy’s and the flamboyant parades that New Orleans has made popular. My opinion is that the author did an excellent job of bringing to life the multicultural populace that make up The City that Care Forgot.
The story opens with the pov of a villain who calls himself Romeo. Well, Romeo seems to be a fan who is obsessed with Remy Lelourie, a popular Hollywood actress. After watching her for awhile, he decides to act on his psychotic tendencies and sends her a note written in his own blood. What follows after that are brief moments of madness and twisted sexual perversions throughout the story. This guy is a real nut job and his narrative was thankfully brief.
Meanwhile, Daman Rourke aka “Day” is pulled away from his girlfriend’s Hollywood party to go to a crime scene in the Quarter. A priest has been found crucified on a crossbeam in the macaroni factory. It’s a place where even the hobo’s refuse to hang out. Father Patrick Walsh was a popular priest and a political firecracker. His death exposes possible corruption within the vestry as well as opening up some well hidden secrets that were eye-brow raising within the community.
There are two threads in this story: one with the obsessed psychotic fan and the other with a murder and rapist targeting a fan club called The Fantastics. Are the two connected? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Even after 4 years post-publication, this book still reads pretty good. Like a fine wine, the story has aged well.
While the author tries really hard to remain true to the period, place and character – it was rather difficult to read a thread where a young black kid, Titus Dupre, is sentenced to die in the electric chair for the murder of a young white girl who was apart of the fan club. However, the biggest crime in the view of society is that he was flirting with a white woman.
Titus never says a word about his innocence or guilt because he knows that no one will believe him anyway; and even if he was found to have not murdered her, the fact remains that he did much worse, in society’s view, in thinking that he could ignore the racial prejudice of his time and dare love someone without regard to the color of their skin.
However, amidst all this psychotic, murder rapist killing spree, forbidden secrets and church corruption, there is a subtle romance underneath all of this gloom and doom. Unless you’ve read “Mortal Sins” then the romance will be somewhat less that satisfying for you. Maybe.
Day and Remy are not married but their journey to romance started in “Mortal Sins.” Of course they still enjoy their bouts of hot sex and Rourke (a widow with a young daughter) is a very passionate man. I liked him a lot because he is so angsty and reserved. He is a man who thrives on risks and loves being a cop and can often be found at a speakeasy playing the sax to blow off steam. The only conflict the couple seem to have is Remy’s career: he wants her to stay in New Orleans but he realizes that making movies is a big part of her life and so he doesn’t ask.
I was drawn to Day because of his unpredictability and his love for his woman but he is not without his own personal demons. He and his older brother, Paulie, grew up with a father who was a cop and a mean drunk. Their mama abandoned them and left them at the mercy of their father. The paths the two men take is telling: Rourke went on to become a cop and his brother Paulie, went off to seminary school. The brothers don’t speak often and are somewhat distant. The two men, however, meet again under less than ideal circumstances because Paulie and the murdered priest were living at the same rectory.
I could go on and on about this book but I won’t. If you enjoy tortured heroes then Day shouldn’t be a disappointment for you. If you like well written mysteries then you shouldn’t pass this book up. The story was complex with a setting that was equally as important and drawn out as the characters themselves. Some books are just “set” in a time or place and you are given no more detail than that but in here you know you are _in_ New Orleans because the author successfully transports you there.
The book gets high marks for plotting, creating a mystery that was somewhat difficult to unravel. The author did a really good job of putting all the pieces together that earlier might have fooled you into thinking or anticipating a different outcome. I was somewhat let down that I couldn’t figure out who the bad guy was and I am always one to look for clues while I am reading. No such luck here.
As for dislikes, I didn’t like how the story ended because it ended on a cliff of uncertainty. Of course I’m sure that Ms. Williamson thought she’d be able to write a another book in this series one day but alas, she has not. As for violence, there is a execution scene in here that is very graphic so you’ve been warned. Also, there’s one explicit sex scene, a modicum of angst, some blues music and a lot of New Orleans culture to keep you entertained. If you enjoy mystery with a romance as an added bonus, then pick up Wages of Sin. My grade, B+/B. It is available a as a secure ebook at Fictionwise and Amazon.