About the Book
The Laced Chameleon is dramatic irony in the rich tradition of the TV series, Columbo.
Rookie detective and New Orleans native Mademoiselle Francesca Dumas is a quadroon, a particular caste of African American women who are sought by wealthy white men. At age eighteen in the second year of the American Civil War, she is the concubine of New Orleans banker, Joachim Buisson, and leads a sheltered life of elegant gowns, lace, 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’s passionate desire for retribution drives her into a new life as a woman sleuth. Playing detective to solve a murder mystery is far from the role of a woman in 1862 New Orleans—especially, a woman who perceives herself to be African American but appears to be white.
According to young and vivacious Francesca, “There are many rules in New Orleans about sex—written and unwritten. The rules apply to everyone—except white men.”
While miscegenation existed all over the South, arranged unions between white men and women of color existed in antebellum New Orleans society by contract in a recognized extralegal system called plaçage. Race, caste, and class are significant matters in Francesca’s life. The grieving Francesca is evicted from Joachim’s house by his parents who refuse to honor the lovers’ plaçage (concubinage) contract.
Francesca’s life becomes intertwined with a homeless hungry white woman and her children when Francesca shares her last Confederate dollars to buy food for them. Francesca’s inquiry into the woman’s plight reveals that the woman’s father is the father of her son. Her investigation lands her work as a spy for Major General Benjamin Butler’s army occupying New Orleans. As Francesca struggles to make a principled choice between another plaçage arrangement and independence, another acquaintance is murdered and her best friend, Emily, is kidnapped.
Working to recover Emily and avenge Joachim, Francesca’s arduous mental and physical journey takes a circuitous route—far from a concubine’s life of extravagant balls, lace, and leisure. Amid the flowering of spring and early summer in New Orleans, she finds herself mired deep in the perilous abyss between foreign, Union, and Confederate spies. Using mule-drawn streetcars, Francesca’s gumshoe work takes her through Vieux Carré, Tremé, and many famous city streets in search of the killer’s motive, means, and opportunity to commit mayhem. In her undercover role, she frequents Café du Monde, Antoine’s Restaurant, and the famous ballroom at the present-day Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Francesca gets help from three historic people of New Orleans; humanitarian Mother Henriette Delille, actress Sarah Butler, and Union spy John Mahan.
Can rookie detective Francesca’s passion, determination, and wit overcome a kidnapper and three-time murderer?
A Note from Bob:
In America, race matters. The artificial constructs of race, caste, and class have mattered for centuries and still matter today. Sex between white men and African, Native American, and mixed-race women produced off-springs known as mulattos, quadroons, and octoroons. Mulattos are likely to have as few as one or two white grandparents and an African or Native American parent. Quadroons have three white grandparents, while octoroons have seven white great-grandparents.
Mademoiselle Francesca Dumas was a quadroon. According to young and vivacious Francesca, “There are many rules in New Orleans about sex—written and unwritten. The rules apply to everyone—except white men.”
While miscegenation existed all over the South, arranged unions between white men and women of color existed in antebellum New Orleans society by contract in a recognized extralegal system called plaçage. Race, caste, and class are significant matters in Francesca’s life.
The rigid caste system into which Francesca Dumas was born in 1843 was an American institution a century before the United States Constitution was written. European Americans used skin color in the establishment of their caste system. For centuries, the ruling or dominant culture decided segregation of people into subordinate groups—whether by skin-color or some other basis such as religion or linage or whatever. A few examples are societies in China, Rwanda, South Africa, India, and Pakistan.
The caste system that had such a profound impact on Francesca’s American life, is alive and well in twenty-first-century America.
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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