Set against the backdrop of the first all-female Mardi Gras krewe at the turn-of-the-century, the acclaimed author’s mesmerizing historical novel tells of two strangers separated by background but bound by an unexpected secret—and of the strength and courage women draw from and inspire in each other.
“An undercurrent of New Orleans’s dark side propels the story, heightening the tension and supplying McPhail with a wealth of evocative details.” – Publishers Weekly
The year 1900 ushers in a new century and the promise of social change, and women rise together toward equality. Yet rules and restrictions remain, especially for women like Alice Butterworth, whose husband has abruptly disappeared. Desperate to make a living for herself and the child she carries, Alice leaves the bitter cold of Chicago far behind, offering sewing lessons at a New Orleans orphanage.
Constance Halstead, a young widow reeling with shock under the threat of her late husband’s gambling debts, has thrown herself into charitable work. Meeting Alice at the orphanage, she offers lodging in exchange for Alice’s help creating a gown for the Leap Year ball of Les Mysterieuses, the first all‑female krewe of Mardi Gras. During Leap Years, women have the rare opportunity to take control in their interactions with men, and upend social convention. Piece by piece, the breathtaking gown takes shape, becoming a symbol of strength for both women, reflecting their progress toward greater independence.
But Constance carries a burden that makes it impossible to feel truly free. Her husband, Benton, whose death remains a dangerous mystery, was deep in debt to the Black Hand, the vicious gangsters who controled New Orleans’ notorious Storyville district. Benton’s death has not satisfied them. And as the Mardi Gras festivities reach their fruition, a secret emerges that will cement the bond between Alice and Constance even as it threatens the lives they’re building . . .
McPhail (The Abolitionist's Daughter) entices with the story of two women from different backgrounds who discover common ground in turn of the 20th-century New Orleans. It begins in Chicago, where Alice Butterworth's cotton broker husband, Howard, doesn't return after a routine trip to Memphis. She searches for work as a seamstress to try to provide for herself, and, seeking both relief from the brutal winter and information about Howard, she takes the train to Memphis. She comes up short, and continues on to New Orleans, where she finds work as a seamstress at an orphanage. Alice meets Constance Halstead, a widow, and offers to sew her a gown for the upcoming Mardi Gras's inaugural all-women krewe. The women's friendship deepens as they learn they both had a son die in infancy, but Constance carries a secret about her husband Benton's death and the continued threat from the sinister members of the Black Hand who are still seeking to recover gambling debts Benton owed to them. An undercurrent of New Orleans's dark side propels the story, heightening the tension and supplying McPhail with a wealth of evocative details. Historical fiction fans will be drawn to this.
Historical Fiction with Mysterious Twists
The Seamstress of New Orleans by Diane C. McPhail is Historical Fiction set in New Orleans. This story is really about two women and their strange connection.Highly recommend this book, it grabbed my attention immediately, a few pages in the story became very mysterious and I couldn’t stop reading.
I thought there were a few loose ends and I would have liked to know more about Dorothea and her power over the criminals in New Orleans, the orphanage, and felt it was sad that Alice did not share her complete story with Constance.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I appreciate the opportunity and thank the author and publisher for allowing me to read, enjoy and review this book. 5 Stars