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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review - Mercury's Rise

This will probably be my final review of the nominees for the upcoming Agatha Awards (click here.)  The Silver Rush Mysteries have won other awards, but not an Agatha thus far.  I have to say that the historical category has a roster full of top mysteries.  I would hate to be a judge for the competition.

I live in Colorado and only a few minutes from the places referenced in the book, so I was interested in how the history and places would be portrayed.

Author: Ann Parker

Copyright: November 2011 (Poisoned Pen Press) 250 pgs

Series: 4th in Silver Rush Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Inez Stannert, part owner of Silver Queen Saloon

Setting: 1880s, Manitou Springs, Colorado

Obtained Through: Library

This was my first in the Silver Rush mysteries, but it stands alone fine.  Inez Stannert's husband, Mark, disappeared one year ago.  In the time since then, Inez made the difficult choice to send her young son, William, to stay with her sister, Harmony, back East because his health was suffering in the high altitude. She has worked on piecing her life together since then.  

The book opens as she is about to get her absent husband declared dead so she can move on with her personal life.  She is traveling with her friend Susan, from Leadville to Manitou Springs to meet with her family and reunite with her son.  During the long rough stage coach ride, fellow passenger Edward Pace dies after taking a tonic from Dr. Prochazka.

Inez and her family are staying at the fictional Manitou Springs House.  The hotel intends to be an upscale hotel but also is cashing in on the throngs of people who come to Manitou for the mineral waters and healing.  For the Manitou Springs House, this means having Dr. Prochazka as part of the hotel, tending to Tuberculosis patients. Edward Pace's widow asks Inez to investigate, believing that her husband was poisoned.  Apparently Mr. Pace was interested in investing into the hotel while his wife was convincing him there was something amiss.

Inez has plenty of drama going on personally while she tackles investigating a death that only herself and the widow believe was a murder.  Inez shows how tough western women were, and how they challenged society mores.  Inez has reached a point where she knows what she wants and is about to grab the brass ring, only to have it yanked away.  She comes out fighting, literally at times.  From what I learned about Colorado history growing up, she is a realistic rendition of what many of the women who helped tame these parts were like.  This book doesn't feature many of the standard secondary characters much, since the bulk of the story does not happen in Leadville.  I would like to get to know the Leadville cast better.

Miss Parker did an excellent job with the history and sense of place.  Since Manitou Springs is essentially my backyard, and only a few minutes drive for me, all of the scenery and even some of the buildings in the story, I grew up with.  I felt like I was being transported back in time with the deft historical portrayal.  The tuberculosis treatment centers in the storyline are a large part of the history in this area.  Even at our University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the old Dwire Hall was a TB treatment center.  I was afraid that I would not like the portrayal of local history and sights, but I had nothing to fear. 

The plot is realistic since tuberculosis treatment really was a big business here, catering to middle and upper classes.    The shady goings on at an upscale treatment center was well done.  The personal life drama often took center stage and those were the parts that I skipped through.  Some personal issues as a subplot are one thing, but there were times when Inez's personal problems nearly became the central plot, which I think slowed the pacing.

The climax was well done I felt, bringing to head all the snooping and suspicions to a dramatic show down.  The wrap-up smoothed some of the drama, but promised that some issues would still be worked out in the next book.

Overall, this is a solid historical mystery with seamless period detail integrated with a  tough female character.  I loved it!

Here is a short video that features the Cliff House mentioned in the book.

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