As 1879 draws to a close, this Rocky Mountain boomtown has infected the world with silver fever. It's not much different than the dot.com mania or the corporate scams that heat up over a century later.
Unfortunately for Joe Rose, a precious-metals assayer, death stakes its own claim. Joe's body is found trampled into the muck behind Inez Stannert's saloon. Inez already had much more to deal with than pouring shots of Taos Lightning and cleaning up a corpse. A lady educated on the East Coast, she has a past that doesn't bear close scrutiny, including her elopement with a gambling man who has recently disappeared.
Most townsfolk, including Inez's business partner, Abe Jackson, dismiss Joe's death as an accident. Death, after all, is no stranger in Leadville. But Inez wonders: Why was this loving husband and father carrying a brass token good for "one free screw" at the parlor house of Denver madam Mattie Silks?
When Joe's widow Emma asks Inez to settle Joe's affairs, almost against her will, Inez uncovers skewed assays, bogus greenbacks, and blackmail. Lies and secrets run deep in Colorado, secrets more likely to lead to a hanging than to today's congressional hearings or country-club prisons for the crooked and the greedy. Then again, maybe Joe's murder was purely personal....
Meet Inez Stannert, the poker-playing, straight-talking, gun-toting owner of the Silver Queen Saloon and the heroine of Parker's excellent debut, set in wintry Leadville, Colo., during the 1879 silver boom. Inez is married, yet her husband disappeared six months earlier with nary a trace. Her partner at the saloon, Abe Jackson, happens to be a free black man, to the dismay of much of Leadville's uptight and prejudiced populace. When a frozen corpse turns up in the mucky alley behind the saloon, Inez and Abe, still reeling from the damage caused by a barroom brawl, are shocked to learn it's their friend, precious-metals assayer Joe Rose. Joe, it seems, had a gambling problem and a nasty secret. His death puts Inez and Abe at odds with a crooked lawman, an infamous madam, a spurned suitor and the mysterious stranger who rides into town as the new minister. Drawing on historic facts and figures of 1870s Colorado, Parker tells a gripping tale of love, greed and murder in the Old West, with a cast of convincing, larger-than-life characters, including a brief appearance from Bat Masterson himself. Inez is a woman well ahead of her time and a welcome addition to the genre, as is Parker, who has left enough loose ends to beckon readers to the next Leadville mystery.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Poisoned Pen Press
March 31, 2006
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