Taking a page from the infamous red-light district of Storyville in 1913 New Orleans, this emotionally charged historical novel is rife with the flavors of the era, the graft, greed and excesses of a place lost to the past.
Tom Anderson is the undisputed master of Storyville, running his fiefdom with an iron hand, manipulating those who do his bidding with Machiavellian sleight of hand. From politics to vice, Anderson is the nerve center of the operation, hand-picking his men with a penchant for violence when necessary.
Francis Muldoon serves various purposes in Anderson’s paid cadre, reporting on incidents as well as any usurpers on Anderson’s turf. A mere shadow of his former self, Muldoon’s once formidable gait is slowed by a significant wound that has given him a marked limp.
Francis works his night shifts, collecting crib keys as required, keeping his deep emotional problems to himself, until he meets Adele, a beautiful young woman singing for Anderson’s competition. After a brief encounter with her, Muldoon indulges in fantasies that are unlikely to come true any time soon.
Storyville is revealed in all its decadence as issues and participants collide in escalating violence, exploitation and greed; dark forces are at work. Control of the district at stake, Muldoon and Adele are caught in a maelstrom of uncertainty, a conflict of epic proportions on the horizon.
Unfortunately for Muldoon, Anderson has a very personal interest in the songstress, a history that goes back to a highly disturbing episode when she lived in Anderson’s home as a child, her mother his mistress.
Certainly Turner’s limping and ineffective Muldoon has reason for cynicism: “It had occurred to him… that he worked among dead people, and that the district itself was a kind of giant charnel house, bordered by its formal cemeteries.”
No matter how convoluted the plot in delivering the coup de grâce, at the heart of the novel is Muldoon’s realization that the women of the district are essentially damaged goods by the time they arrive, playing out lives already turned bad. It is this fact that Muldoon resists in his foolish affection for Adele: in Storyville, happiness is never an option.
Storyville is not the brilliant celebration of wine, women and jazz it first appears, but rather the dregs of humanity shuffling slowly to their uniquely macabre dance, Anderson playing the tune, impervious. Muldoon’s moment comes at the cost of his illusions, his only option to flee from that which would only destroy him.