This is Storyville: Papa Bellocq's grainy photographs of "soiled doves," the rounders who gather for a few hands of cards, the working girls in full dress, the plump madams with calculating minds and grand salons to welcome customers, the rich and powerful men who take their profit and the numerous invisible servants who carry on behind the scenes to keep this grand enterprise running smoothly.
As a private detective for Tom Anderson, the King of Storyville, Valentin St. Cyr troubleshoots the moonlit streets of the District, reporting to his boss for special assignments. Of late, Storyville is gaining notoriety for a new kind of music, the funky, low-down blues and wild disharmonies of Jass. The black musicians have taken this exciting sound to heart, filling the nights with soulful rhythms. Valentin's childhood friend, Buddy "King" Bolden, is a shining stars among the horn-blowing magicians, a hard-drinking womanizer who enjoys the benefits of fame.
But lately Buddy's drinking and drugging is out of control, those magic melodies losing their edge. Buddy is keeping his anxieties to himself, which is all right with St. Cyr, currently engrossed in solving the brutal slayings of a number of ladies of the night, each corpse left with a black rose as a signature. Anderson expects quick results from St. Cyr before District business suffers.
Nothing happens in Storyville that goes unnoticed, and the Black Rose murders are no exception. Buddy Bolden is the obvious candidate, but Valentin has more on his mind than his friend. The recent violent murders of the women haunt the detective, always one step behind and unable to assemble the pieces; yet St. Cyr refuses to give up. When the escalating violence hits too close to home, Valentin steels his resolve, reaching into the dark mind that so casually disposes of human life.
When his friendship with Buddy is threatened, the detective truly knows despair: “Valentin felt no relief, just a nagging emptiness, a vacant sorrow for all the ghosts, living and dead.” This dark night of the soul shadows the detective's every action and affects his personal relationships with the stain of that painful loss. Stubborn and determined, solving the murders becomes a personal challenge, if nothing else, to repair his friend's lost reputation.
Fulmer’s novel is richly atmospheric, recalling the ribald days when horns blared the new music and the night sparkled with the false histrionics of bright lights and the laughter of painted women frolicking with no concern for the law, while the wheelers and dealers gathered great fortunes from the free-market vice of the District. Now faded into the dusty past, for a short time Storyville is brilliantly resurrected in the pages of Chasing the Devil's Tail; and for those who crave more of this exotic world, the novel is followed by Jass, the next Valentin St. Cyr adventure in Storyville.