Few cities capture the writerly imagination like New Orleans, and all it takes is one visit to understand why—as settings go, it’s an embarrassment of riches.
Sultry and gorgeous and ripe with various temptations, New Orleans is a sensory overload, especially as spring warms into summer. The rising heat will set your blood on a slow simmer and make every horizon shimmer like a mirage. The air smells of river water, beignets, jasmine, and last night’s beer. The sound of a second line jazz parade competes with the laughter of Bourbon Street tourists and the clip-clop of carriage horses. It’s sex and death, brawl and languor, high passion and low company.
I thought of all this as I strolled through St. Louis Cemetery #1. Famous for being the final resting place of Marie Laveau—the celebrated voodoo queen—this cemetery is now off limits to anyone not a part of a tour group after someone vandalized her tomb with pink latex paint. The bill to repair the damage came to around ten thousand dollars, and to prevent further destruction, the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, which oversees the cemetery, created new rules governing how and when tourists could visit.
Luckily for my family and me, one part of the prohibition was dropped while we were still in town—visitors could once again tour at dusk. We were the only group there that evening, and we got to see the cemetery in the warm, honey-colored glow of sunset. During the day, the white above-ground tombs reflect the light and heat with merciless ferocity. As the sun sinks, however, the graveyard takes on a different flavor. The dead feel even closer, friendly even, and the weathered beauty of the brick and wrought iron can be fully appreciated.
It feels timeless there, liminal, as if the veil between this world and the next has thinned. New Orleans is said to be the most haunted place in the US. One of its rumored supernatural residents is Pierre, who has a table set for him every night at Muriel’s restaurant. Pierre supposedly died by his own hand, distraught that his gambling debt meant that he would lose his beloved home. He committed suicide as a way to avoid eviction, and according to the legend, succeeded in staying put for over a century now.
I understand Pierre’s reasoning, I really do. For even though New Orleans is not my own, it is magnetic in its pull. I’m a Lowcountry girl, but I know I’ll be back to the Big Easy. It doesn’t feel as if I have a choice.
* * *Tina Whittle writes the Tai Randolph mysteries for Poisoned Pen Press. The sixth book in this Atlanta-based series—Necessary Ends—is available now. Tina is a proud member of Sisters in Crime and serves as both a chapter officer and national board member. Visit her website to follow her on social media, sign up for her newsletter, or read additional scenes and short stories: www.tinawhittle.com.