The Foreign Exchange is the second volume in Veronica G. Henry’s Mambo Reina modern fantasy series.
Evangeline “Vangie” Stiles discovers unexpected deposits in the family bank account. Vangie asks her husband Arthur for an explanation, but Arthur is cagey about the source and purpose of the money. Vangie is alarmed and turns to her hairdressing client Mambo Reina for help.
Arthur Stiles has a checkered past where money is concerned. He ran some confidence schemes; the minor scams blew up in his face and he served two prison terms. Is he again dabbling in crime? If he is, there could be dire consequences. A third conviction would trigger the three-strikes law and he might spend the rest of his life in prison.
Reina (as you might remember from my earlier review) is one of New Orleans’ mambo priestesses. Vangie might have hoped that a spell or two to resolve the matter, but Reina knows better. A blindly targeted spell (which would be the best she could do with the info she’s been given) could go very wrong. Reina is also street-savvy enough to know that mundane methods might work as well as magic. She needs more info. Reina starts asking questions.
It’s not too hard to find out more. Arthur clearly wants to keep whatever he is doing a secret, but he’s bad at keeping a low profile. He has a circle of sketchy friends and it’s likely that they know what’s going on.
Turns out that what’s going on is as bad as it could be. It involves a form of human trafficking. Not only that … one of Arthur’s criminal associates is a magical adept who commands a great deal of raw power, even if he wields it inexpertly. This person has killed before. Murdering a nosy mambo priestess? No problem.
This is as much a PI novel as it is a modern occult novel, which means that the protagonist must assume that she can trust no one. Clients may hold back vital information if telling wouldn’t be in their best interests. Even close friends might have reasons to clam up or even lie. Problems ensue, such as … Arthur tricking Mambo Reina into investigating a house containing the body of a man who has been magically cooked from the inside. The cops appear at an inopportune time (not a coincidence: they got a call from Arthur) and detain her. The odd thing is that although the murder weapon was pure magic, the police assume it was murder and not, say, spontaneous human combustion.
You might wonder how the police would handle what is clearly a murder by magic. Are there any mundane laws that might apply? No problem. The book makes it pretty clear that if the NOLA cops want to pin the blame on someone, mere facts won’t matter.
Speaking of cops, Mambo Reina is still dating her judgmental cop boyfriend, Roman. On the plus side, this gives her a degree of insurance against the police, since nobody wants to piss off Roman. On the minus side, just how trustworthy is a NOLA cop boyfriend? (But he does save Mambo Reina from a terrible rent-to-own-contract; unlike Mambo Reina, he reads the fine print.)
New Orleans is as much a character in this novel as are the protagonists, friends, allies, and antagonists. The particular scam that Arthur and friends are running has been modeled on recent New Orleans history. More than that I cannot say.
Like the earlier Mambo Reina novel, The Quarter Storm, The Foreign Exchange is a diverting occult mystery. I note that while the supernatural elements are important to the plot, one could easily imagine Henry writing a purely mundane mystery. Mundane mystery novels sell to an audience that far outnumbers the audience for speculative fiction. I hope no one points this out to the author … and of course, that no one points her to this review.