Our September book is A Free Man of Color, by Barbara Hambly.
New Orleans in the 1830s is a place of change mixed with tradition. Benjamin January, a free man of color, has returned home after many years in Paris, fleeing a city that seems to speak his dead wife's name every time he turns around. A musician and doctor, Benjamin is en route to a Carnival octaroon ball when a masked young woman calls for help in the street, shouting his name. After rescuing her, and progressing to the ball in time to start the first dance, he realizes the woman was an old piano student of his. Between dances, he slips out to see her, for Madeline, a white woman, has defied custom and tradition by invading the octaroon ball January is playing for - a ball for white men and their colored mistresses, their placees. Next door, in another, adjoining ballroom, are the white sisters, mothers, and wives of these same men, wondering with pretend ignorance where their menfolk could have gone to.
January urges Madeline to leave before someone recognizes her and her reputation is ruined. She, however, refuses to leave unless he sets up a meeting for her with the octaroon woman she has come to see - the most flamboyant of the free women of color present, Angelique, the placee of Madeline's recently deceased husband. When Angelique disappears before the evening's planned tableaux, Benjamin watches with amusement as his sister Dominique, and her friends, search frantically for the girl - amusement that turns to horror when Angelique is found dead. When the police come to investigate, January realizes that he is the last person to have seen the girl alive, since the young man she was with when he left the room has fled to a country estate and is hiding from questioning. The social climate is already chilly toward men of color, even free ones, and January finds himself having to go to great lengths to have to clear his name - and to find out what really did happen to Angelique during the Mardi Gras ball. (excerpted from the author’s website)