The Case of the Pistol-Packing Widows

Written by Caroline Lawrence
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Nevada Territory, U.S.A., 1862. In this, the third P. K. Pinkerton mystery, our hero, age 12, is hired by a Chinese courtesan, Opal Blossom, to spy on her fiancé, Poker Face Jace, who she thinks may be playing her false. Jace is attending a conference in Carson City, where the future of Nevada Territory will be decided. But Jace is P.K.’s friend. How can he spy on him?

But this is no simple ‘romance’ case. P.K. soon learns that Jace’s life is in danger; he has fallen for the beautiful Violette de Baskerville, known as the Black Widow. Violette specializes in marrying rich men – and, soon after, they die nastily.

The 1860s were a violent period in the history of the Wild West. Carson City has all the hallmarks of a frontier town, with gun battles, gambling dens, and unscrupulous men on the make. The pace is fast and furious and the plot immensely complicated as it follows the twists and turns of contemporary frontier politics. Real-life characters, such as Sam Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) and James. W. Nye, the first governor of Nevada Territory, play their parts, too. There is a splendid glossary at the back which explains everything from ‘Legislature’ and ‘Confederate’ to ‘blacksnaking’ and ‘short bit’.

P.K. himself is a most engaging hero. He is ‘half-Indian, 100% Methodist’, as he puts it, and a misfit. He cannot read emotion and suffers from melancholic episodes. But he is quick-witted and adept at a variety of improbable disguises, which he’s going to need as, all too soon, a variety of people are after him. Soon. it’s not only Jace’s life that is in danger. Fortunately, P.K’s also observant, brave and tenacious. P.K. Pinkerton fans will be delighted to know that the book will be out in paperback in July.