Pelikan is one of the rarities of modern fiction: rousing and well written, a book with humor that never insults intelligence even as it outrages propriety. The journey begins when thirty-three-year-old Charlie Curtis travels to New Orleans on a deathbed assignment from his father to find the father's half-brother -- James Joseph Pelikan, who rules the French Quarter from midnight until dawn in places where tourists seldom venture. Charlie is barely off the train when he witnesses the murder of one of Pelikan's cronies by a woman whose only adornment is a fishhook through her lower lip. There ensues a drama, a caper, a quest.Although unschooled, James Joseph Pelikan delivers outrageous riffs on such topics as the Mississippi River's being America's alimentary canal...and what that makes New Orleans. A pimp who arranges sex parties, he also serves as a paladin for nuns; he hustles and scams but will also bathe and feed the most wretched of the homeless; cruel and manipulative (he manages to break Charlie's heart and his finger), Pelikan is so obsessed by redemption that he'll use a toothbrush to clean sidewalks outside St. Louis Cathedral. That Charlie would eventually join this seducer in a hurricane-whipped burglary has more to do with loyalty than larceny.In Pelikan, David Lozell Martin, acclaimed thriller writer and author of a literary classic, The Crying Heart Tattoo, has created something reminiscent of A Confederacy of Dunces with the kind of oddball characters and sense of place found in Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard. Martin combines his skills as a writer of dark suspense (Lie to Me; Tap, Tap) and literary novels (The Beginning of Sorrows) to make Pelikan a carnival ride to enlightenment.