Colorado Central Magazine

IN THE PUBLISHING WORLD, there are men's novels and women's novels -- the latter in a clear majority, since women buy many more books than men do. And, much as I enjoyed this mystery set in Leadville just as the railroad was coming in June and July of 1880, it's definitely a women's book.

Here's how I could tell. At the rear of this book is a one-page glossary, with terms I thought almost anyone would know, like "fishplate," for the piece of iron that is bolted to connect rails at their ends, and "giant powder," which is what 19th-century miners often called dynamite to distinguish it from conventional blasting powder -- also called black powder or gunpowder.

That wasn't a glossary I needed. But I was in sore need of definitions when I waded into this paragraph:

"The door was opened by a tall, slender woman wearing an uncannily familiar dress. Inez took an involuntary step back. Same basque bodice, same gray moiré and faille silk combination, same narrow skirt, mid-length banding, and pleated ruffle at the hem. The only difference Inez could detect from her own Sunday outfit was that the woman at the door had opted for a jabot collar, graceful as a lace waterfall down the front of her bodice, in counterpoint to Inez's now-limp collar of ruched ivory threadwork."

Now, I've written a few adult westerns, so I have some knowledge of 19th-century feminine attire, although the general idea in those books was to remove the clothing quickly and go into detail for what lay beneath.

I knew what a bodice was. But what's a basque bodice, as compared to other bodices? Moiré I knew because the term is also used in the printing industry, but faille? What's banding on a skirt? I don't know a jabot collar from a clerical collar. And ruched? What's that mean? Where's the glossary, preferably illustrated, that I need to comprehend this description?

When I brought this up to Martha, though, she could easily define and describe all these out-of-fashion fashion terms, but she didn't know what a fishplate was. So, guys, consider yourself warned. You'll probably enjoy this novel, as I did, since it's got plenty of action and adventure and violence, but you'll need a different glossary than the one that comes with the book.

IRON TIES is the second part of the Silver Rush Mystery series which began with Silver Lies, published in 2003. They're set in and around pioneer Leadville, and the protagonist is Inez Stannert, a grass widow (her husband disappeared not long after their arrival in the Cloud City) who owns and operates the Silver Queen Saloon with business partner Abe Jackson, a free black man from Louisiana -- who had once fought for the Confederacy.

The Civil War ended only 15 years before this book starts in the late spring of 1880, and its passions have by no means vanished. Also persisting are the terrible memories of the men who fought in the bloodiest of all American conflicts. The struggle is coming back into focus because the approaching Denver & Rio Grande Railroad is headed by former Union Gen. William Jackson Palmer, and the first official train to Leadville will carry a distinguished guest, former President and Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

A lot of one-time grayback soldiers have no use for any Union officers, and the arrival of the Rio Grande is not entirely a welcome development, either. Competing lines like the Santa Fé and the South Park could be trying to stall the D&RG's track-laying progress up the Arkansas from Granite toward Malta and Leadville. There are freighters and draymen whose livelihood will be hurt by the railroad, and they might be defending their enterprises from competition. Further, the company's methods of acquiring a right-of-way into town are less than scrupulous, thereby making enemies of some landowners.

So when Inez's photographer friend Susan Carothers, out capturing landscapes with her new light dry-plate view camera, sees two men killed along the just-laid tracks before she's knocked cold by an explosion, its hard to know just who's behind the violence. Especially when no one besides Inez believes Susan, since the bodies cannot be found.

INEZ NOT ONLY has a saloon to run, but a romantic life to sort out. Legally, she's still a married woman, but she's carrying on a discreet affair with the Rev. Justice B. Sands. But his eyes are roaming toward Miss Birdie Snow, flirtatious daughter of the railroad's land-acquisition attorney. And Inez has trouble taking her own eyes off Preston Holt, the tall man in charge of guarding the railroad payroll.

Resolving these conflicts takes us into Leadville during its boom times, where the muddy streets are packed with ore wagons, stagecoaches, and pedestrians. Notorious State Street more than lives up to its infamous reputation as one of the West's great tenderloins. The town is seldom quiet, even in the wee hours. There are a fair number of shootings, and a world-class saloon brawl that starts when the piano player takes requests, including some songs that offend Southerners who then demand equal time. It's an entertaining and engaging escape into 1880. As a history buff, I don't exactly read novels for accuracy -- there's such a thing as poetic license, after all -- but on occasion I run across a jarring note and it annoys me.

Thus I was pleased when there was no Salida in the book -- the place is always called South Arkansas, as it was known in June and July of 1880. Nor did it have legendary Mart Duggan as the town marshal -- he left the post in April of 1880. The only anachronism I spotted was a reference to the Denver Post, which did not start publishing until 1892, a dozen years after this book's time.

So I look forward to enjoying Inez's next Leadville adventure, even if I will doubtless have a hard time visualizing the attire.

By Review by Ed Quillen
Leadville lore - August 2006 - Colorado Central Magazine - No. 150 - Page 32


Additional Reviews

Reviews for Leaden Skies:

Publisher's Weekly
The Mystery Gazette
Reader Views
International Thriller Writers: The Big Thrill

Midwest Book Review
Oakland Tribune
The Leadville Herald Democrat

Reviews for Iron Ties:

Publisher's Weekly
Midwest Book Review
Crime Watch - Chicago Tribune
I love a Mystery
The BookBitch

The Cozy Library
Historical Novels Review

for Silver Lies:

Crime Watch
Publisher's Weekly
The Daily Camera
The Drood Review of Mystery
The Leadville Herald Democrat
I love a Mystery
Quincy Public Library
January Magazine
The Best Reviews
The Independent
Broomfield Enterprise

Women in World History Curriculum