1863 New Orleans witnesses the upheaval caused by “passe blanc.”
When the coffin is dropped, the wrong corpse falls out. Instead of black musician Rameses Ramilles, opium-addicted fiddle player Hannibal Sefton (Patriot Hearts, 2007, etc.) recognizes Patrick Derryhick, a man he knew a continent away when they shared secrets as they closed bars in Paris and London. Why was Patrick in New Orleans in the summer heat, traveling with Lord Foxford, Foxford’s uncle Diogenes, and Droudge, his business manager? Sefton leans on his pal, free man of color Benjamin January, to investigate. The tale at first seems to hinge on investing in cotton plantations upriver but then veers off into inheritance concerns complicated by interracial romance and a touch of blackmail by a gentleman impersonating a lord. January is waylaid; Foxford is charged with murder by the New Orleans City Guard; and a lady’s maid is sold into slavery to keep her quiet while mounting clues intimate that some families are passing for white despite parents of color. The undertaker’s half-brother will be accused of siphoning off bank funds from a Burial Society and January will have to outrun overseers, slave traders and men determined to obfuscate family origins before matters settle down.
Vivid glimpses of the disparate lives led by whites and people of color in mid-19th-century New Orleans.