Book Review: MADAM: A NOVEL OF NEW ORLEANS by Cari Lynn and Kellie Martin

Publisher: Plume
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Source: Review copy from the publisher (Penguin’s First To Read Program)

When vice had a legal home and jazz was being born—the captivating story of an infamous true-life madam

New Orleans, 1900. Mary Deubler makes a meager living as an “alley whore.” That all changes when bible-thumping Alderman Sidney Story forces the creation of a red-light district that’s mockingly dubbed “Storyville.” Mary believes there’s no place for a lowly girl like her in the high-class bordellos of Storyville’s Basin Street, where Champagne flows and beautiful girls turn tricks in luxurious bedrooms. But with gumption, twists of fate, even a touch of Voodoo, Mary rises above her hopeless lot to become the notorious Madame Josie Arlington.

Filled with fascinating historical details and cameos by Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and E. J. Bellocq, Madam is a fantastic romp through The Big Easy and the irresistible story of a woman who rose to power long before the era of equal rights.


MADAM is an entertaining romp through the underbelly of New Orleans on the eve of the 20th century. This book is based on the true story of Mary Deubler, a poor “alley whore” who transforms herself into Madame Josie Arlington in the new vice district. When city officials realized that it was impossible to rid New Orleans of prostitution, an alderman named Sidney Story proposed moving all prostitutes to one area of the French Quarter, and thus Storyville was born.

Mary was a survivor who found the gumption to move forward in spite of her lot in life. She was an orphan left in the care of her despicable uncle, who began pimping her out as a prostitute when she was twelve. Experiencing the underworld of New Orleans through Mary’s eyes was amazing. The authors brilliantly captured the heady atmosphere of the era. Ragtime musicians, voodoo practitioners, eccentric madams, and shady politicians make an appearance in this book, all based on real historical figures.

Overall, MADAM was an enjoyable read, though at the end I thought Mary’s story felt unfinished, and there were a couple loose ends that needed tying up. The book opens with a letter from Mary’s niece in 1997, then it moves back very briefly to 1907, and shows what Mary’s life had become as Madam Josie Arlington. Then it moves back again to 1897, and tells us about Mary from her alley whore days to the creation of Storyville, but what happened during the missing 10 years? What happened to her relationships and rivalries? I’m a greedy reader – I wanted more!

MADAM paints a vivid portrait of New Orleans and the colorful characters who made its red-light district infamous. Highly recommended for fans of American historical fiction. I also enjoyed the vintage photographs throughout the book.

Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.