A first novel, and for a mystery, it’s a long one. As a work of historical fiction, the page count might be about right. It’s 1879, and Leadville is a booming small metropolis in Colorado, the inhabitants of which are afflicted with “ever-present cold, lingering homesickness, and the pangs of silver fever.” Inez Stannert is one of the few women in the town, co-owner of a flourishing saloon, and (since the town marshal seems to be totally lacking in interest) the only person willing to investigate the possible murder of the town’s assayer, trampled to death on the frigid muck of a nearby street.
Adding to Inez’s concerns is her husband, who’s been missing for several months, but the new minister in town seems more than willing to help her forget. The legendary Bat Masterton also makes an appearance, but it’s little more than a cameo, as Inez and the Reverend J.B. Sands end up doing all of the heavy lifting.
As a mystery, it’s adequate. It works better as an historical novel — life in this rough-and-tumble corner of the world is presented quite effectively in both its scenic wonder and wretched living conditions. It’s less effective where the romantic elements are concerned, falling prey to cliché. Much of the author’s work is paradoxically undone by some better-than-average characterization that has to be abruptly remodeled to fit the rather lurid conclusion.