Oct 20, 2006
Reviewed by Joy
1893, New Orleans
Society widow Savannah Knight’s beloved husband has left her an unexpected inheritance. At first she is shocked to learn that Charles’s main business was a bordello. Savannah swallows her dismay for long enough to hear what her husband’s attorney has to say, and learns that La Hibiscus Rouge is not just a thriving whorehouse. It is also a front for an Underground Railway, one that rescues battered wives and children. In their culture men have the right to do anything they feel like to their dependents. In the dim underground world of victims, Charles was known as their only hope. Savannah can’t abandon them.
Savannah takes on the running of La Hibiscus Rouge – masked, to preserve her position in society. She finds she loves the danger, the tightrope she dances as she meets in society the men who visit her bordello yet never recognize her. Seeing the seamy underside of male life as she does, it is not surprising she has never been attracted to another man after Charles. Then comes the compelling Napoleon. He is the son of her mother’s best friend, and he tracks down runaway wives. Not only for the pay. Napoleon believes women who run away from their husbands are wicked. Savannah’s balancing act isn’t fun any more, especially not when her best friend becomes the quarry of the man she is perilously attracted to.
Here’s where you’re going to have to suspend your disbelief. I think that a man who restores women, like property, to their despicable husbands would carry a bad vibe, one that would repel a woman like Savannah. Aside from that, however, Savannah’s three lives make an intriguing plot. She must go to extreme lengths to protect the secret on which so many women depend.
BORDELLO has humor in addition to its cliffhanging suspense. Savannah’s mother and her best friend Clarice are two of the most talkative women in society. Both women want the best for Savannah. To help her be happy, they see no reason why they shouldn’t know her every thought. Savannah has to dodge around entertaining, prying streams of conversation, to avoid even letting them know she has a secret.
Characterization is both the strong and the weak point of BORDELLO. That is the fault of the romance premise. The oh-so-attractive Napoleon seemed to me to be a reasoned plot element, not a human being. Savannah, who radiates exhilaration, would be better without him. Aside from these two, the characters are sharp and interesting and strike no false notes. New Orleans also presents us with a hurricane. The overall effect is fast-paced and suspenseful.
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