‘Mamou:’ Mardi Gras crime novel takes the ‘Dixie Iditarod’ from Flora-Bam to Cajun country

Fat Tuesday: Party hard, go to bed early. Clean Wednesday: Get up at midnight, gather a crew, go rob a bank.

What could go wrong?

You could argue that Chris Warner has spent most of his life researching his new novel Mardi Gras, or at least the parts of it that don’t directly relate to the grand theft. He’s from New Iberia, La., and lived in Fairhope for a while, getting plenty of exposure to the carnival scene in the Mobile area. In the last decade, the Perdido Key region has become his home. Drawn to the legendary Flora-Bama, he didn’t just hang out there: He befriended one of the men who made it the institution it is, the late Joe Gilchrist, and helped write Gilchrist’s memoir, “Bushwacked at the Flora-Bama.”

“Mamou” is an exploration of the Mardi Gras tradition along the Gulf Coast that in a way traces the course of Warner’s life backwards.

Both in real life and on the page, this story begins with an ad for a barstool. In real life, the bar was Hub Stacey’s on the Point, and it was architect Brad Lee Patterson who presented Warner with his idea for the script for the Mardi Gras crime thriller.

Warner immediately thought that he could turn it into a novel.

Maybe “architect” doesn’t cover it. At a recent author appearance at The People’s Room in Mobile, Warner introduced Patterson saying “he’s an international bon vivant, he’s a character, I’ve seen him drink eight bushwackers in one night.” (In addition to the central idea, Patterson also provided an interesting novel cover and illustrations scattered throughout the text.)

On the site, the field comes (of course) in Flora-Bama. It is the Saturday before Holy Tuesday. An unheard-of February hurricane destroyed the sailboat that Huntsville-based architect Arnie O’Roark called home. He was quite incapacitated before the storm. It is now external, and lowered. But he gets a call from an old friend from Louisiana who is on his way with the Cajun Navy to rescue him. Which means treat him to a drink or three and come up with a crazy plan to give him a reason to live.

Excerpt: Polecart (“Polie-car) “Cutter” LeBlanc was a native of Mamou, Louisiana, a tiny Cajun enclave ten miles from Eunice and home of the world-famous “Courir de Mardi Gras” or “Running of the Mardi Gras,” a nineteenth-century religious ritual born of forgotten French of the feudal system that occurs each year on Fat Tuesday on the Cajun prairie, marking the end of the Catholic-sponsored evening and the beginning of the Lenten season.

LeBlanc has the original architectural plans for the old bank in Mamou. He thinks that Maundy Wednesday, when the whole community is asleep from carnival festivities, will be the perfect time for a robbery.

That puts “Mamou” on a pretty tight schedule. Sunday takes O’Roark and LeBlanc to Mobile, allowing Warner to explore the misdeeds and uniqueness of Joe Cain Day. “One of my heroes is Joe Cain, I think the guy is amazing,” Warner told listeners in The People’s Room.

"Mom," by Chris Warner with Brad Lee Patterson, features cover design and sketches by Patterson.

“Mamou,” by Chris Warner with Brad Lee Patterson, has cover design and sketches by Patterson.L7

At Lundi Gras, the growing crew heads to New Orleans, where they have a good time before moving on to Mamou and his very signature Fat Tuesday tradition.

Mardi Gras veterans often advise newcomers that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The whirlwind travelogue “Mamou” takes that concept to the next level, with a crowd of would-be criminals, accomplices and girlfriends calling it the “Dixie Iditarod.”

But there is method to the madness, as Warner told his audience. It is no coincidence that there is a historical timeline at the end of the book. He wanted to chart the ways in which Carnival is celebrated on the Gulf Coast. Real restaurants, real bars, real history, real tradition.

“I’m giving you the history of Mardi Gras in Mobile, New Orleans and Mardi Gras,” he said. “History precedes every scene in book order, along I-10. It’s really convenient, it’s fun.”

It is the book that brings him home.

“Where I’m from, in New Iberia, New Iberia was founded in 1779 by the Spanish, about 500 of them,” Warner said. “At that time, the Spanish took over Louisiana from the French in 1762 with the Treaty of Fountainbleu. After the Cajuns showed up, all those Spaniards bought into the Cajun culture. If you go to Acadiana – my father whose last name was Warner, he embraced the Cajun culture, he came from California and lived as a Cajun – if you’re going to live there, you’re going to live as a Cajun, I’m going to become a Cajun. You will do the things they do, you will celebrate holidays, you will eat their food, you will be Cajun.

“Mamou is home to the Cajun capital of the music world,” he said. “Fred’s lounge is only open every Saturday from 7am to 2am. One day a week. But on Mardi Gras, it’s open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, five days in a row. That’s a big part of the end of the book, on Mardi Gras day, where it’s open all day.”

Excerpt: Cajun Mardi Gras is known as “the Mardi Gras run” or “Courir de Mardi Gras”, or “the run” in French; and that’s because we’re talking about running fast enough to catch a live chicken, because it’s a repetitive, youthful, often hilarious competition within this fascinating, colorful outdoor spectacle in South Louisiana that’s unlike any other Mardi Gras celebration in the world. … During this pre-Lenten holiday of any kind dating back to medieval times, the fete de la quemande, a ritual begging festival, the aim of the common man was to drink a lot of beer and spirits, have a good time, create chaos and gather to ask the rich for ingredients for a great gumbo, ruling class and nobles living in the countryside.

“There’s a twist at the end, a surprise,” Warner said of the caper’s climax. “Because there are really only a few things that can happen, none of them.”

“I think it’s a story that’s going to last a long time because it’s a holiday that everybody loves … it’s just a fun holiday buzz,” he said of his tribute to Mardi Gras. “It kind of makes you think about life and how important it is to have fun.”

Warner and Patterson will spend part of the 2023 Carnival season promoting and distributing the book. Outside of that? Patterson is still imagining the movie. But he and Warner told The People’s Room that they are also mulling ventures such as a “Dixie Iditarod” bus tour that would take fun-seeking Carnival revelers along the route described in the book.

“We promise to bring you back,” Patterson said.

As of January 20, “Mamou” was available at select local bookstores such as The Haunted Book Shop in downtown Mobile, and online ordering will be available soon. For updates on availability, check back chriswarnerauthor.com.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *