The Laced Chameleon by Bob Rogers is a suspenseful, compassionate and perceptive reflection on race, identity, and the multifaceted history of New Orleans. The story opens on April 25, 1862, as the Union is routing the Confederates out of New Orleans. The beautiful feisty quadroon Francesca Dumas, her lover, wealth banker Joachim, and several friends are among the crowd celebrating the turnover. Then Francesca world swirls out-of-control when Joachim is shot down before her eyes. Vowing revenge Francesca quickly dispatches her friends to follow the suspected shooters, as she attends to moving Joachim’s body. Now penniless and homeless as Joachim’s family refuses to honor the signed placage contract, this allows mixed-race women to form arranged liaisons with wealthy white men. Further distressed upon learning the police does not have the resources to investigate the murder of Joachim or the kidnapping of her friend Emily, Francesca will turn amateur sleuth working against the clock of time finding out she is much more than what is expected of her.
Rogers’ characters are sharply drawn, and realistically complicated highlighting that much in history is not necessarily all black and white but shades of gray as personal necessity demands. This was a time where race and class defined your identity and everyone was expected to play within the spoken and unspoken rules but it was the characters that stepped outside those boundaries that get me turning the pages. I enjoyed the political intrigue and treachery that’s beautifully interwoven with the history, especially how the fictional and “real life” characters moved the plot along.
I enjoyed and cheered on the character of Francesca and her growth throughout the story. She was raised to use her beauty as her badge of security but survival quickly taught her that was only one key in her arsenal that brains, common sense, compassion, and determination allowed for more opportunities and independence. While I thought the beginning bogged down at points as circumstances reveal deeper, darker motivations, the pace and plot quickens to a satisfying conclusion.
And while I know the author has many more historical stories to tell us, I am hoping that this would be the beginning of a Francesca mystery series. I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction who enjoy a mysterious unscrambling of history.
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.