Monday, November 6, 2017

Becky Lee Weyrich’s THE SCARLET THREAD – The “red lantern” district of New Orleans in the Victorian Era… oh my!

Having read and loved Tainted Lillies, I was anxious to read another by Weyrich.

This is the story of Desiree La Fleur. It begins in 1885 when she is seven and her mulatto nurse flees Desiree’s drunken father with Desiree and her infant sister, Innocente. In the swamps they become separated and Desiree is recaptured by her father’s men. We don’t learn much of her youth after that except she is taken home and though she has a stepmother who has no love for her, Desiree is educated in the East. In 1899, when she is 21, she decides to take the money she gained from a writing contest and join her best friend, Nanine, in New Orleans.

As soon as she gets off the train, Desiree is mistaken for a woman named “Garnet” who, she later learns, is a prostitute living in “Storyville,” the red lantern district of New Orleans. It’s “the scarlet thread” on Basin Street. Right then I realized, even if Desiree did not, that she’d found her long lost sister.

Meanwhile Nanine plots to match Desiree with Dr. Roman St. Vincent, dubbed “the saint of Storyville” for the help he gives to the young prostitutes. And the prostitute named Garnet is in love with him. Two sisters both in love with the same man. Because of their beginnings, one is ostensibly good and the other a fallen woman, raised to believe she is a woman of color when she is not.

Neither Desiree nor Roman want marriage but decide, at their early encounter, to pretend they are engaged to appease Nanine and her husband in whose home Desiree lives.

Weyrich writes well and tells a good story so, of course, I was sucked in from the start. There were lots of improbable twists and turns but once I got over that, I had to find out if this smart girl was really going to be so dumb as to do some of the things she did. And what of Garnet who really loves Roman but who he thinks of as a young sister? And then there is this “ripper” guy who goes around killing prostitutes. Ah, yes, lots to think about. And did I mention it’s a bodice ripper?

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