Battle's last, The Past is Another Country (1990), was set in Australia. But here she's come back home to the South--the Big Easy, circa 1900, no less--to tell a tale oozing with hypocrisy and vice. It's really the story of two women, high-society wife Julia Randsome, a transplanted Yankee who rides her bike to ladies' meetings and reads Ibsen, and Kate Cavanaugh, who is to become one of the most successful madams in the legendary red-light district of Storyville. Their paths intersect when Julia's son, Lawrence, is ""given"" Kate for a night as a going-away-to-the-Spanish-American-War present. At 15, Kate's turned to prostitution after being seduced and abandoned by a flimflam man. Nonetheless, there's something so fresh about her that Lawrence falls in love, only to die at the Battle of San Juan before he can return to rescue her. Meanwhile, Julia's perfect marriage to New Orleans scion Charles begins to fall apart when she discovers that part of his income is generated by property in Storyville. Ultimately, she takes in a pregnant Kate and leaves Charles, despite the fact that, at heart, Charles is a surprisingly reasonable, liberated man. And when Kate runs away from Julia to return to Storyville, Julia's left all alone on the high road. Storyville comes to lurid life under Battle's pen, as do the day's sexual double-standards. And, as usual, Battle's prose goes down as smoothly as a well-made Old-Fashioned. But there's a rub, because the main character, Julia, isn't consistently sympathetic, nor is the groundwork laid for her lionization as a feminist decades after her death. It's a lot easier to forgive and love the whore than the women's activist--which would he an interesting irony, if only Battle seemed more in control of it.