The “raunchy, hilarious, and thrilling” true story of the incomparable Norma Wallace, proprietor of a notorious 1920s New Orleans brothel (NPR).
Norma Wallace grew up fast. In 1916, at fifteen years old, she went to work as a streetwalker in New Orleans’ French Quarter. By the 1920s, she was a “landlady”—or, more precisely, the madam of what became one of the city’s most lavish brothels. It was frequented by politicians, movie stars, gangsters, and even the notoriously corrupt police force. But Wallace acquired more than just repeat customers. There were friends, lovers . . . and also enemies.
Wallace’s romantic interests ran the gamut from a bootlegger who shot her during a fight to a famed bandleader to the boy next door, thirty-nine years her junior, who became her fifth husband. She knew all of the Crescent City’s dirty little secrets, and used them to protect her own interests—she never got so much as a traffic ticket, until the early 1960s, when District Attorney Jim Garrison decided to clean up vice and corruption. After a jail stay, Wallace went legitimate as successfully as she had gone criminal, with a lucrative restaurant business—but it was love that would undo her in the end.
The Last Madam combines original research with Wallace’s personal memoirs, bringing to life an era in New Orleans history rife with charm and decadence, resurrecting “a secret world, like those uncovered by Luc Sante and James Ellroy” (Publishers Weekly). It reveals the colorful, unforgettable woman who reigned as an underworld queen and “capture[s] perfectly the essential, earthy complexity of the most fascinating city on this continent” (Robert Olen Butler).
“In this world, there are great characters who have no idea that they are great characters, and great characters who are fully aware of their greatness. Wallace must be counted among the latter. She had the wit of Dorothy Parker and the instinct for self-dramatization of Tallulah Bankhead.” —Michael Lewis, The New York Times Book Review
“Christine Wiltz has done a remarkable and rare thing: she has captured perfectly the essential earthy complexity of the most fascinating city on this continent. The Last Madam is an exhilarating mardi gras of a book.” —Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize–winning author
“Wiltz elevates [an] impeccably assembled historical narrative above its elementary bawdy elements into something more elegant and fragile: the resurrection of a secret world like those uncovered by Luc Sante and James Ellroy.” —Publishers Weekly
“Wonderful . . . Admirably re-creates a little slice of a life otherwise devoured by time.” —The New York Times Book Review
“French Quarter madam Norma Wallace was one of those characters who could flourish only in New Orleans . . . She served jail time. She received the key to the city. And she died a violent, mysterious death.” —New Orleans Times-Picayune Christine Wiltz, a native of New Orleans, is the author of five novels, including The Killing Circle, A Diamond Before You Die, and The Emerald Lizard, all set in New Orleans and featuring Irish Channel detective Neal Rafferty. Her novel The Glass House was praised by the New York Times as “unflinchingly honest” and a book that “needs to be read on both sides of Convent Street.” Shoot the Money, her most recent fiction, is an edgy “sisters in crime” novel reminiscent of Thelma and Louise. The Last Madam, her biography of French Quarter legend Norma Wallace, is under option for film.
Wiltz has written for the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. She has been a writer-in-residence and adjunct professor at both Tulane and Loyola Universities.