The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp
Camp’s novel is a love song to his city, which is still recovering from the devastating trauma of Katrina, which ripped the city apart and, as the title suggests, flooded it with losses of all kinds.
If there was ever a city that has a personality, New Orleans is surely it. And Camp brings us a supernatural personification of the city, its strength, its luck, its will, its voice, and the many magical creatures and interesting people who live there.
We’ve all learned to expect New Orleans to be filled with vampires, tarot, voodoo, zombies, and, not least, jazz. Camp’s story has them all, and then some.
The plot involves one Jude, a finder of lost things. Jude was wiped out by Katrina, overwhelmed by the massive and continuous flood of losses. He’s been hiding since, unable or unwilling to use his gift.
But now Jude is pulled into some kind of complicated plot that appears to be part of a dangerous tussle for control of the city by major magical powers. Magic is powerful, but the goals of the powers are unknown and some are definitely not benign.
Unraveling the mystery—and finding himself—Jude meets a great assortment of New Orleans characters, visits many iconic locations, and generally lets us see New Orleans as it ought to be, even wounded as she is.
I loved the characters and scenery, and, of course, Camp makes clear the many things he loves in his city. If nothing else, this story is an answer to “why did you go back?”
I do believe in the magic of sex and drugs and rock and roll, which also abounds in the Crescent City. But personally, I don’t care much for new agey mystical stuff. Tarot. Legbas. Magical herbs. Yawn. But Camp makes a smooth and delicious story out of it.
Just for instance: zombies are a really stupid concept. But an ancient jazz man, unhappily preserved after death, still playing that busted up horn, making magical music that touches people, and, in the end gives voice to the city. That’s a beautiful, beautiful image, and it’s so right.
Much of this story is dark and gritty, with violence and loss at every turn. But there are good people here, good deeds, and the possibility of life. It’s wonderful, hopeful, and it’s so New Orleans.
- Bryan Camp, The City of Lost Fortunes, New York, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.