Rating: 3.75 stars
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Mark Madison is running away from his past as fast as he can. Leaving behind him death and the threat of incarceration, Mark finds himself in New Orleans, circa 1886. It is the start of a new life under a new name. Mark has arrived to take the job of tutor to the son of a local wealthy widower, Royal Du Cote. But the situation Mark finds himself in is anything but normal.
The boy, Luc, is mute and frightened of his father. He hasn’t spoken since the death of his mother two years ago. And his father, Royal Du Cote? Handsome, wealthy, seemingly haunted by his wife’s death while giving Mark looks that make him shake with desire. Mark comes to care for Luc and promises himself that he will find a way to free Luc of his terrors so he can speak once more. But what part does Royal play in Luc’s affliction? Could Royal be part of the problem? The house and household is full of secrets and Mark needs to find the keys. But will the truth free all involved or will Mark and Royal see the demise of all their hopes and dreams once and for all?
The words New Orleans and Lynn Lorenz go together like chocolate and caramel, a perfect blend. It is clear from her stories, located in that fabled city, that she loves and understands the peculiar nature of the place and its magnetic pull on people world wide. Say the name New Orleans and it immediately conjures up romance and lust, sultry nights full of indolence and the pervasive aroma of the lake itself. A place where all races and backgrounds combine, independent of laws and sometimes morality. I love the way she writes about New Orleans, her love and knowledge clearly showing in all her descriptions. That is equally true whether we are taking about the present or New Orleans of 1886, the time of Coliseum Square.
Here is Mark pulling into the New Orleans harbor on one of the river’s paddleboat:
The boat veered toward the levee, as another string of port buildings appeared just past the Place d’Arms, the old square. The paddlewheel slowed, the slapping of the boards against the water became fewer and then it stopped.
We floated. Silent.
We all held our breaths as the great boat edged closer. On the wharf, men ran back and forth, shadows darting in and out of the gaslights. The steam engines bellowed, the paddle started again, this time in the opposite direction, and the boat shifted closer to the dock.
Below us, on the bottom level, our own men rushed, gathering and untying huge ropes, shouting commands and aye-ayes.
“Hold on!” one of them shouted.
I grabbed for the railing and braced myself. The boat shivered, halted, and with a final shift, hit the wharf, jerking us all nearly off our feet. A few of the ladies screamed, the children hooted, the men remained stoic, as if they did this every day of their lives.
Above us, another blast from the horn, signaled our arrival.
I leaned over the edge and watched the men below toss the ropes across the narrow gap to the men on the dock, watched them tie us off, backs and arms and leg muscles straining as they wrapped the ropes around huge mooring posts, securing the paddle wheeler to the dock.
The wheel stopped. We had arrived.
You can almost feel the boat “shiver” as it floats into place against the pier and the excitement of the people on board. From there, Lorenz takes Mark through the streets on horse drawn carriages, smells of the water and manure rising up to mix in the already heady aroma of the city. Lorenz clearly has also done her homework as her descriptions bring the New Orleans of old vividly to life before our eyes.
The streets’ names, set in blue-and-white tiles on the corners, were of the muses–Erato, Melpomene, Terpsichore–but when we reached Euterpe, we turned the corner and headed away from the river. A few blocks down, a modest park appeared, green lawn and stately oak trees, and we turned the corner.
“Where’s the house?” I asked.
“On the other side of the park.”
Straining to see across the expanse, through the trees and manicured shrubbery, to the collection of houses on the far side, I could only wonder which would be my new home. Each looked grander than the next, each stately, with black iron fences standing guard, lush plantings, and brick walkways.
The author beautifully draws the reader into the wealthy neighborhood and deposits us at the front door. Up until then the book is magic itself. Then the door opens and the best and the most problematic aspects of Coliseum Square are revealed.
Lorenz has always rendered her characters in loving yet realistic detail. They always have depth as well as a certain charm to them. In Coliseum Square, we have not only two adults to engage our affections, but a young traumatized child as well. I adored and absolutely related to the young boy in this story. Lorenz makes this mute, emotionally scarred five-year old so compelling, so vulnerable, that his problems and recovery command most of our feelings and regard. In addition, the author portrays the tenuous, growing relationship between Luc and Mark in authentic and revealing scenes that captured my heart each time these two appeared in the story. I think I loved this section of the book most of all. It feels real, and it is certainly moving.
Mark Madison and Royal De Cote are believable characters too. Mark especially as a young man fleeing the consequences of his sexuality, and hoping to find sanctuary and perhaps even a home in New Orleans. His fears as well as his youth translate well here. Considering the fact that you could be jailed if not hung for being a sodomite in the 1880s, then Mark’s fear for his safety and tendency to flee at the first sign of discord is understandable. Royal De Cote is probably less realistic in my eyes. But then, a wealthy man of stature in New Orleans could and most likely did behave as they wished as long as appearances were kept up. Lorenz made his anguish over his son’s behavior and situation worthy of our compassion and understanding. So, where’s the problem?
That would be the romance factor. In a relatively short amount of time, these two men gaze longingly at each other, fall into bed and love. And they do this without really talking to each other or physically spending time with each other except at dinner. True, two handsome gay men under the same roof during that time period might have taken advantage of the situation. That I can see, especially if one is older and more experienced. Put that together with proximity, and yes, I can see the instant attraction leading to a sexual encounter. But instant love and family? That is a much harder sell and I am not sure that Lorenz accomplished it here. I think that had the story been extended past the 84 pages and the time the men had together lengthened into a reasonable period, then I think I could have bought into their gothic romance more readily than I did.
That aside, I still loved so many aspects of this story that it almost garnered a 4-star rating, from the historical descriptions that vividly brought 1886 New Orleans to life, to the traumatized little boy who captured my affections. For those elements alone, I recommend this story to you.
Cover Review: Trace Edward Zaber unfortunately makes use of a model who has been used to excess. With New Orleans as a backdrop, surely the design could have been more pertinent in detail.