A Betting Woman: A Novel of Madame Moustache

Written by Jenni L. Walsh
Review by Fiona Alison

From its enticing cover to the turn of the last page, this novel is engrossing. Alongside other historical women way ahead of their time, Simone Jules was the first female professional croupier. Her tale dabbles in love and revenge, but her game of choice? Vingt-et-un, which she introduced to the West in 1849.

After a family tragedy overtakes her life, Simone arrives in San Francisco, determined to reinvent herself, no longer a daughter or twin sister or fiancée. The miners flock to her table to spend their gold. Simone is striking, intoxicating, with a feminine allure, made even more so by her silky French accent, which she uses to advantage. She is well-mannered, intelligent, and business-savvy. She never allows a client to touch her. Her gambling houses are respectable—no cussing, no brawling—and she doesn’t hire girls! After another tragedy, she joins a mule train for a few years, reinvents herself as Eleanor Dumont, and sets up Madame Dumont’s with her own hard-earned money. Until the inevitable happens and the miners move on again, drawn to the seductive whispers of gold.

Simone is a drifter, a very successful one, a survivor with the will to overcome anything life throws at her. She sets up in many places from San Francisco to Kootenay, always dealing vingt-et-un, her specialty. We experience her wanderings, her hardships, and loneliness with her. The commotion and cacophony of noise in a place being built from the ground up and the subsequent quiet of the foothills are exactingly rendered. Many memorable characters come and go, but what stands out is Simone’s autonomy, her self-reliance, her freedom to go where she likes and do what she likes. A fabulously entertaining story about a remarkable woman who just wanted to be herself.