In this second freedman Benjamin January novel, set in 1834 New Orleans, it is fever season, which starts after lent in April and goes through to the first frost in October. Those who can afford to, leave town for the country in order to avoid Bronze John (yellow fever) and a small outbreak of cholera. Since there are no very few parties to play at, January makes his money working at the Charity hospital as a doctor.
It is there that he meets Rose, a freedwoman who runs a school for colored girls, who asks for his help with the few sick students whose mothers did not take them away to the country. As he helps her, they develop a close friendship and January finds himself falling in love for the first time since his wife died. January meets up with a friend of Rose's, Cora a slave who has run away from her master's home, because his "affair" (more like rape) with her has made his wife, Madame Redfern highly upset. Also, Mr. Redfern is a gambler who has begun selling off slaves to pay for his debts, but he refuses to sell Cora. Cora is in love with one of the sold slaves who lives in Madame Lalourie's household, whose husband is a prominent doctor. Cora asks January to see if he can get word to this slave since he teaches piano to Lalourie's two daughters.
Shockingly, Madam Lalourie herself, offers a way for the two to meet and talk and gives January money for Cora. Madam Lalourie works in the hospitals too and has quite the reputation of being both a kind and giving woman and a monster; depending on who you talk to. That is the last anyone saw of Cora. It turns out, she had stolen a pearl necklace and $1800 from the Redferns and left it with Rose. Rose gets arrested for the theft, instead. Meanwhile, at the Redferns, poisoned mushrooms were served and made Madame Redfern and the household staff ill, while killing her husband. Cora discovered the mushrooms and figured out that something bad was about to go down and she was in danger, which is why she left.
Things get weird when Madam Redfern claims the pearls and money are not hers, so Rose is released from prison and vanishes. Now fever season is over and no one is hiring January as a pianist for their parties and most of his students quit. Someone has something against January and wants to run him out of town like they did Rose. Soon, however the attacks become deadly.
A slick revivalist preacher becomes close to Madame Redfern and buys her slaves at rock bottom prices then sells them to plantation owners in the Missouri Territory where slaves are in great demand. However, the preacher does not appear much richer and the church he has been promising to build with the donations from parties held by Redfern has yet to appear. Meanwhile, Madam Redfern, who is supposed to be broke from paying her husband's debts, is now thriving. It also appears that someone is kidnapping blacks and coloreds alike to sell in Missouri. As in the first book, January works with the "backwoods" Kaintuck police officer, Shaw.
This book is especially interesting because one of the characters actually existed in the 1830s New Orleans and did the heinous crimes of which come to light one night. Hambly has a real way of putting you in the odd world of New Orleans of the 1830s and the crazy hierarchy system and just how much a person can get away with in the treatment of their slaves. Madamzelle Marie, the voodoo priestess is up to something in this book too, as she lurks in the shadows. This is an excellent book that will keep you guessing until almost the very end. I really love visiting this truly bizarre place with its weird rules ("the custom of the county") and sultry crazy South where if you are a man of color you have to watch everything you say and do or you could find yourself kidnapped and sold into slavery or put into prison for something you did not even do. It is a unique world and I very am very much fascinated by it, but am glad it has passed.
I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell