The Laced Chameleon book cover

The Laced Chameleon

Synopsis of The Laced Chameleon   

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The Laced Chameleon is dramatic irony in the rich tradition of the TV series, Columbo.

New Orleanian Francesca Dumas is The Laced Chameleon. Mademoiselle Francesca Dumas is a quadroon (one-quarter African American) and concubine of a New Orleans banker, Joachim Buisson.  Courted by moneyed white men, Francesca, a chameleon, leads a sheltered life of elegant gowns and lavish balls until a bullet shatters her dream world.  While awaiting the arrival of the Union Navy among a throng gathered atop a Mississippi River levee April 25, 1862, Francesca’s lover is shot dead by her side.  Rain soaked and blood-stained Francesca vows revenge. 

Francesca Dumas

Francesca Dumas

The grieving Francesca is evicted from Joachim’s house by his family who refuses to honor the lovers’ plaçage (concubinage) contract. Francesca’s life becomes intertwined with a homeless hungry white woman and her children when she shares her last Confederate dollars to buy food for them.  Francesca’s investigation of the woman’s plight lands her work a spy for Major General Benjamin Butler’s army occupying New Orleans.  As Francesca struggles with her identity to make principled choices between another plaçage arrangement and independence, an acquaintance is murdered and her best friend, Emily, is kidnapped.

Francesca works to recover Emily and avenge Joachim.  Her arduous mental and physical journey takes a circuitous route, far from a concubine’s life of extravagant balls, lace, and leisure and into the perilous abyss between foreign, Union, and Confederate spies, leading to the Battle of Baton Rouge.  Francesca gets help from New Orleans humanitarian Mother Henriette Delille, actress Sarah Butler, and Union spy John Mahan.  Can Francesca’s determination and wit find and defeat a three-time murderer?



 A Note from Bob:

In America, race matters.  Within the artificial construct of race, color and class has mattered for centuries; and for that matter, still matter today.  A new methodically researched novel, The Laced Chameleon, sets forth the story of a young New Orleans woman in a life changing hero’s journey during the summer of 1862 that enables readers to witness color and class struggles at the eve of emancipation.  How did she become a chameleon?  Sex between white men and African, Native American, and mixed-race women produced offspring known as mulattos, quadroons, and octoroons.  Mulattos have no white grandparents, but a white parent and an African or Native American parent.  Quadroons have three white grandparents, while octoroons have seven white great-grandparents. 

These arranged unions between white men and women of color existed in antebellum New Orleans society by contract in a recognized extralegal system called plaçage.  In The Laced Chameleon, Francesca Dumas was a quadroon.  While in a plaçage arrangement, Francesca and her contemporaries were known as placées.  Race and class matter in Francesca’s story.

Though this is a work of fiction, the mores, economic, and social options of women of color depicted in New Orleans, and historic events of 1862 are real.


Partial List of Nonfiction Characters Appearing in The Laced Chameleon

Benjamin, Judah P.,    US Senator; Confederate Secretary of State

Browne, Thomas,        Owner of the Singer Sewing Machine Agency


Sarah,                           Actress, wife of General Butler

Butler, Andrew,             Colonel, US Army; brother of General Butler

Butler, Benjamin F.,      Major General, US Army

Casanave, Pierre,         Founder of Undertaking Service

Casanave, Peter,          Son of Pierre, Undertaking Service

Cocks, Arianna*,           Daughter of Annabelle

Cocks, Annabelle*,        Daughter of John G. Cocks

Cocks, John G.,             New Orleans Judge

Cocks, Able*,                 Son of Annabelle

Corlin, Martha*,             Confederate Sympathizer

Delille, Henriette,           Founder and Mother Superior, Sisters of Holy Family

Dumas, Alexandre,        Author of The Count of Monte Cristo

Foster, Thomas,            Owner of a New Orleans slave sales depot


Charles Camille,            Owner of Heidiseck & Company Wines, Reims, France

Jobert, Rev. J.B.,           Pastor, St. Augustine Catholic Church

Lille, Sarpy,                    Officer, Union Bank of New Orleans

Lovell, Mansfield,           Major General, Confederate States Army

Mahan, John,                 General Butler’s most trusted Spy

Nixon, James,                Owner/Publisher, New Orleans Daily Crescent

Packwood, Theodore,   Owner of Belle Chasse Plantation

Rusha, E.M.,                  Owner of EM Rusha. Importer of Fine Wines & Liquors

Strong, George B.,         US Army, Major, General Butler’s Chief of Staff

Tunnard, William H.,      Confederate Army Sergeant, 3rd Louisiana Infantry Regiment

Zunts, James E.,            Investor and Co-owner of the City Hotel


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