Set in New Orleans, this is historical fiction at it's best!
Described as a "ribald, picaresque trip through an 1840s New Orleans saturated with sex, drugs, death and corruption".
From Publishers Weekly
Buoyantly detailed, briskly paced and masterfully sad, Russell's debut follows a fugitive apprentice photographer through the shops, bedrooms, newspapers and streets of antebellum New Orleans. In Russell's imaginative account, L.J.M. Daguerre, the inventor of the daguerreotype, had a 15-year-old apprentice who assisted in his discoveries. In 1838, this apprentice ransacked his master's Paris studio and fled to the New World, bringing his as yet unheard of "magic portraits," along with one of the cameras used to make them, to New Orleans, a city then threatened by recurrent epidemics of yellow fever. The narrator, taking the name Claude Marchand, has wild success as a portraitist. He has an octoroon lover, Millicent, who offers her sexual services to the gossip columnist of the Daily Tropic to protect Claude's secret after Daguerre exhibits his process in Paris. Vivian Marmu, a sassy, hypnotically attractive 10-year-old and the subject of one of Claude's first commissioned "soliotypes," competes with Millicent for Claude's attention. When Vivian falls ill with yellow fever (the "Yellow Jack" of the title), the Marmus seek exile in Boston for four years, leaving Claude and Millicent to their unsanctioned partnership, during which they finagle the adoption of twins and live a relatively wholesome domestic life. But the Marmus' return sets the plot reeling again Vivian, heretofore presumed dead, resumes her monthly portrait sitting and seduces Claude, launching a courtship that remains under wraps until it grows clear that, at age 16, she carries his child. As New Orleans authorities deny that Yellow Jack has returned, an appeal to Claude's mercenary instincts convinces him to document its presence in a series of memorial portraits. Eventually, the fever kills Vivian's New England-born fianc?, the obstacle to Claude's union with her. Can they marry? What will become of Millicent? Will the city authorities clean up its open sewers to fight the disease? The reader's excitement and interest come from negotiating three versions of the same story: Claude's first-person narration, Millicent's diary entries and a modern art historian's study, in dispassionately academic language, of Claude's neglected daguerreotypes. The three strands telegraph, diverge and ultimately dovetail to a full set of wrenching and satisfying conclusions. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I thought it was an interesting view of New Orleans in the 1800s and how "picutre taking" became so incredibly popular.