Tampa Bay, Florida, in 1898 is a frontier, where the progress of the modern world has not yet won the battle against the voodoo magic of the swamps, but where miracles of transformation are still possible. Dominating the town is the new Tampa Bay Hotel, with its tangle of Moorish minarets, Byzantine domes and new electric lighting, designed by Edison himself — a fairytale castle that is a winter magnet for the best sort of people — bankers and industrialists, stock brokers and shipping merchants, attorneys and architects and celebrities — who come from the northern cities and Europe.
But the hotel does have one permanent year-round resident: Monsieur Lucien Goulet III is the exotic wigmaker to the rich and glamorous, and indeed to any resident of Tampa whose desire for the transformations he creates is keen enough to meet his price. Goulet himself is entranced by the head of hair belonging to the young widow Marion Unger. And as the raw material he needs to complete his great masterpiece becomes harder to come by, so he drives his gifted night-scavenger — a teenage Cuban cigar-maker — to increasingly extreme efforts.
As this unlikely cast of characters becomes entwined, the secret depths of Goulet’s nature rise to the surface, leading to an electrifying conclusion.