Megan Harlan
September 17, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Yellow Jack

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Josh Russell
genre
Fiction

We gave it an A-

Set amid the yellow-fever epidemic in 1840s New Orleans, this taut, atmospheric first novel follows the brief, amoral career of young photographer Claude Marchand. Apprentice to real-life photography inventor Louis Daguerre, Claude steals one of his mentor’s cameras and opens a studio specializing in ghoulish ”memorial portraits” of the dead. Claude’s affairs with two women — sophisticated, voodoo-dabbling Creole prostitute Millicent, and sexy, selfish society girl Vivian — are depicted through three sharply focused, alternating perspectives: Claude’s blustering voice, Millicent’s insightful diary, and a photo historian’s dispassionate commentary. Thanks to his artful plot, Russell’s fictional portrait proves luminously haunting. A-

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