Second Lives: A Novel of the Gilded Age

Written by Richard S. Wheeler
Review by Steve Lewis

Denver in the early 1880s may not have been the center of the universe, but to anyone living in the American West at the time, it may have seemed like it. Colorado was a hotbed of miners, mining engineers and those others who usually ended up owning the mines, the gold, the silver and more. Some of them became rich; some very much so.

And many didn’t, at least not permanently. There were also dancehall girls, respectable married women (not all of them happily so), lawyers, would-be poets dying of consumption, barmen, bankers, newspaper reporters, and more. All with hopes and dreams, not all of which are realized, and in this long, epic novel, Wheeler follows the lives of a few of them.

Wheeler has his own innate sense of justice, one which does not always necessarily follow from any particular legal or religious system. As his characters come to life — which they all do — the decisions they make are their own, and so are the consequences. The American West was a tough, unforgiving world to live in, and even though he can also be a sentimental softie at times, none of Wheeler’s novels pull any punches, including this one.