Madam of My Heart

Written by Gini Grossenbacher
Review by India Edghill

In 1849, pregnant Brianna Baird is sent to New Orleans to bear her bastard child. When the child dies, Brianna falls into the clutches of a notorious madam. Her needlework skills, plus the interest in her by a suave gambler, combine to keep her from actually working as a prostitute. Colorful New Orleans is a dangerous world, and Brianna’s kind heart gets her involved with a slave family whom she’s determined to free. So Brianna and her gambling man kite out to Gold Rush California, where Brianna becomes madam of the fanciest brothel in San Francisco. But times and morals are changing fast, even in San Francisco, and they are about to face their biggest challenge.

Excellent research and evocative writing produce a vibrant book. Unfortunately, these very virtues throw the story’s main fault into high relief: the pacing. The book’s supposedly about Brianna running a brothel in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush—a fascinating idea that’s never covered. The “best madam in San Francisco” plot happens off stage, during a five-year gap after over 200 pages of Baltimore and New Orleans—and before the end sequences. I felt cheated of a unique story.