Storyville seethes with activity in the early 1900s, a geographic slice of New Orleans that caters to men's natural vices, women, alcohol, gambling and drugs, all manner of criminal enterprise under the cover of night, the red-light district a magnet for violence. This is Storyville at the height of notoriety, where graft and greed happily coexist with beautiful women of all hues, painted and gilded for men's pleasure, where every desire can be accommodated, even the oblivion to be found at the end of a needle.
To be sure, some sinister force is shadowing select Jass musicians, their bodies discovered one after another, casually claimed by death. But violence is endemic to a place like Storyville, and musicians are frequently caught up in a netherworld of drugs that fuel the music's intensity. Clearly, certain musicians are being marked for extinction. But why?
When Jelly Roll Morton calls in Valentin St. Cyr, head of security for Tom Anderson, "The King of Storyville", St. Cyr doesn't attribute anything more cryptic to the deaths than a few musicians meeting an inevitable fate. However, once Jelly Roll plants the seed of doubt, the former police detective monitors unfolding events with a nagging sense of unease. The detective digs in his heels as is his nature, when both the police and the mayor demand that St. Cyr back off from the direction of the investigation.
Three years ago, Detective Valentin St. Cyr's friend Buddy Bolden, a Jass musician, was murdered. Since then St. Cyr has gradually lost his edge, although he is still in the game running security for Anderson. Lately given to self-pity and self-indulgence, his personal relationships besieged with problems, the former detective's well-honed instincts remain intact. Meanwhile, the plaintive notes of musicians catch fire as Jass seduces the night, a haunting refrain for senseless killings born of one fateful rampage, a heady mix of music, sex and drugs.
Refusing to be intimidated by the ready violence of Anderson's rounders, St. Cyr prowls familiar alleys and bawdy houses, pushed to examine some of his own failings in the process. Bright lights and drunken laughter fade into the black depths of depravity as he uncovers some ugly truths that jeopardize his own future.
The author uses the vernacular of the early 1900s, describing the infamous Storyville with the colorful adjectives of dissolution, profit and notoriety that so define the District. In this world, the loud laughter of revelry fades to the devastating poverty and rampant crime exposed by the light of day. St. Cyr is familiar with these streets, well-known to the few who wield the power and protect the clandestine acts of murderers; the dark covers a multitude of sins. But more powerful and seductive than any vice, a new kind of music, Jass, wails through the midnight hours, refusing to be silenced in the agony of birth.