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New Orleans, April 1862. Red buckeye and gladiolus blossoms adorn the city. Hope has come with spring, though the Great American Civil War is entering its second year. But for Francesca Dumas, the murder of her “contract husband” has changed her future from bright to bleak. As with her mother and friends, a marriage of any kind was the only way a woman could live a life free from poverty.

With the recent arrival of rumors that the war will soon come to New Orleans, Francesca—and her friends and neighbors—must make the painful small choices available to women: find another man or compete for a handful of “female occupations.” Or she could decide to take on a role that was reserved for men—instead of following a friend and passing for white.

The Laced Chameleon is a striking novel that looks beyond race and takes readers into women’s caste and class struggles in the antebellum South. Superimposed on Francesca’s story are greed and murders committed by men seeking power and wealth—all while the deeply divided United States is in civil strife and its survival as a single nation is in doubt. Undaunted by a depleted police force because of war, Francesca undertakes finding and bringing to justice her husband’s assassin. She gets advice and help in her crusade from historic people of New Orleans, including humanitarian Venerable Henriette Delille, actress Sarah Butler, and Union spy John Mahan.

Undercover, rookie homicide detective Francesca becomes a chameleon in lace.

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

Hildreth-Butler, 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

Heidiseck, 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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