Cholera and worse strike New Orleans in 1833 in this hectic, dankly atmospheric sequel to A Free Man of Color (1997). Benjamin January, the freed slave who practiced surgery for six years in Paris but makes his living back home as a piano player, is already exhausted from tending the sick in Charity Hospital and arguing with the self-regarding white medicos about the efficacy of bleeding the tormented victims of “Bronze Jack” when he’s accosted by Cora Chouteau, a manumitted servant who begs him to help her reunite with her new husband Gervase, the houseman who’s disappeared into the house of his new masters, Delphine and Dr. Nicolas Lalaurie. Before January can tell Cora that he’s arranged a meeting with Gervase, she’s disappeared too--pursued by a story that she poisoned her own master and mistress. Emily Redfern recovers sufficiently to accuse Cora of stealing $5,000 and a string of pearls; alleged rapist Otis Redfern is beyond recovery. The town’s feelings, easy prey for any rumor that will deflect the citizens from the epidemic that everybody recognizes but the newspapers never mention, swiftly turn against Cora. But January has hardly a moment to spare for her when he’s called to Rose Vitrac’s ravaged little school, and from there to the side of his ailing, pregnant sister. Two patterns emerge from Hambly’s darkly vivid swirl of subplots: Friends of January’s family, especially dark-skinned freedmen, are disappearing, perhaps claimed by Bronze Jack, perhaps victims of a more human predator; and the gap between what the citizens know and what they admit, between the secrets they’re privy to and the blame they’re eager to cast--old Creole families to parvenus, landowners and slaves alike to freedmen--widens alarmingly. The shortcomings of Hambly’s mystery plot--the culprits are too obvious and too many--strengthen her sense of a grim, miasmal conspiracy between human monsters and nature gone mad.