The Cards Don’t Lie

Written by Sue Ingalls Finan
Review by G. J. Berger

This novel covers the run-up to and the Battle of New Orleans between British redcoats and the rag-tag forces of General Andrew Jackson. The story unfolds mostly through the lives of Catherine, a well-known healer; Millie, a feisty prostitute; and Marguerite, a plantation mistress.

The everyday clothes, food, interactions of people, gruesome details of childbirth, and defense of New Orleans all ring true. At the end, a brief summary of the lives of actual historical characters in the story makes for a nice wrap up. Finan’s historical research is evident and impressive, though sometimes delivered in information dumps or through unlikely dialogue. The prose is clear and, at its best, emotionally powerful.

The novel is organized into over 100 unnumbered parts. A Tarot card name (The Four of Swords, The Six of Cups, etc.) heads each part. These segments range in length from less than a page to eleven pages. Each begins with a new or different character point of view but often quickly changes to the viewpoint of other characters or the author. Readers move from the viewpoint of one of the main women to that of one of her servants, friends or family members, or to General Jackson, the President, or other secondary players. This hectic, choppy structure, the many people, and the changes in points of view, all in a relatively short novel for the subject, make it hard to invest in one or several characters and interrupt interesting storylines.