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Charleston, S.C., is custom-made for the kind of journalists who treat the phrase “stranger than fiction” as a literary marching order. The city’s Victorian mansions, magnolia trees, and overbearing society protocols inject a dose of honeysuckle-scented intrigue into run-of-the-mill happenings. And—as in the case of Dawn Langley Simmons—someone who’d just be a kook anywhere else can flourish into a real character in Charleston. As Edward Ball recounts in his new book, Peninsula of Lies, it wasn’t enough for demure, English-born biographer Gordon Langley Hall to undergo one of the first-ever sex-reassignment surgeries to become Dawn Pepita Langley Hall after moving to Charleston. Only a few months later, Hall married John-Paul Simmons, a black mechanic, in one of Charleston’s first interracial ceremonies. Even more sensationally, a few years later, the couple had a child and claimed that Dawn Simmons was the biological mother. Ball, a Charleston native, tracks the travails of Simmons (who died in 2000) from England to upstate New York and reveals the truth of her sex change, marriage, and child. But Ball’s interviews with a cast of Charleston society mavens, old salts, and eccentrics are what uncover the real story of Dawn Langley Simmons: She was starved for attention, and parochial, close-knit Charleston was—and still is—all too happy to give it to her. Ball reads at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 18, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Mike DeBonis)