"Crescent City Crimes: Old New Orleans 1718–1918" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Schiffer Publishing
Written by Charles Cassady Jr.
2017, 160 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on October 28th, 2017
Mention New Orleans to me and you’ll trigger memories of food and booze and streets at night. Say New Orleans and I’ll start thinking about standing on the shores of the Mississippi, talking to street hustlers, having my arm pulled by scantily clad ladies working the door of a plethora of strip clubs, and walking around under the rain looking for the tomb of Marie Laveau (which may or may not be her tomb after all). The point is that the city of New Orleans possesses a certain magic, a bizarre je ne sais quoi that makes it special. It has to do with its music and food and people and history, which is as murky as the waters of the Mississippi after heavy rains. While it is impossible for a single book to capture everything the city embodies, Charles Cassady Jr.’s Crescent City Crimes: Old New Orleans 1718-1918 does a superb job of offering a detailed, well researched look at a specific time in the city’s history. It is as strange, colorful, and mysterious as you’d imagine.
Crescent City Crimes is one of those unique nonfiction books that is as obsessed with details as it is with storytelling. The result is a very enjoyable read that takes us into the darkest, weirdest parts of New Orleans’ history and tries to give as much true information as is available in order to separate fact from fiction. Luckily for the reader, there are times, as is the case with the life and death of the aforementioned Laveau, known as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, where separating myth and reality is almost impossible. While this would frustrate most nonfiction authors, Cassady navigates uncertainty without problem, and that allows his appreciation for the city to shine through.
While I really enjoyed the chapter devoted to Laveau, there are also many other historical characters here whose exploits have pushed them into the realm of legends. Politicians, pirates (the chapter dealing with the adventures of Jean Laffite is outstanding), prostitutes, city officials, merchants, murderers, and petty criminals all get their time in the spotlight, and they all add to the (his)story of a city where events that happened a long time ago are still being talked about in the present, but in a way that mixes fact and fiction to the point that the dividing line between them becomes an invisible line constantly being moved by the hands of too many ghosts.
As with most academic books, there are a lot of sources, questions, names, and dates, but not all of them have to be remembered in order to enjoy this one. Cassady separates storylines in a way that the fabric of New Orleans is exposed as a cohesive thing, but not one so complicated that the reader will need to keep notes while reading the book. Instead, it reads more like a mosaic novel about the peculiar happenings that shaped not only New Orleans but the way the city was thought about by its residents, people in nearby states, and even folks in other countries, especially in those which held power over it at different times.
Crescent City Crimes: Old New Orleans 1718–1918 is nonfiction, but its author has a penchant for storytelling and a few projects on the supernatural under his belt, so the information that can be found in it (many of which are included in the two-page bibliography at the end) shares the spotlight with the questions that will probably never be answered and the rumors that have survived until now. That Cassady doesn’t try to solve everything in order to claim to have written the definitive account about New Orleans during this period is a good thing because it shows that the author recognizes that some of the city’s shadows are simple too dark to look inside them. This makes this nonfiction book one that will be enjoyed by history buffs, New Orleans fans, crime fiction lovers, and even those who love to read about the supernatural.