The Lucky Hat Mine

Written by J. v. L. Bell
Review by Waheed Rabbani

New Orleans, 1863. Millie Virginia, an orphan, sees an advertisement: “Wanted: a wife. Prospector … Idaho Springs.” At 23, Millie has few prospects in the occupied city, so she gets engaged to the prospector, Drouillard. He sends tickets and travel money and also deeds his cabin and gold mine to her. After a perilous journey, the mail-order bride arrives in Idaho Springs in Colorado Territory to face a remorseful crowd—and her fiancé in a pine box. Allegedly he died in a mining accident. There’s a line-up of suitors for goldmine owner Millie, but she prefers to live alone. Then Drouillard’s uncouth brother arrives. Convinced Drouillard was murdered, he seeks the killer and woos Millie. Luckily, they find a hat and more.

J. v. L. Bell has written an unusual murder mystery with a romance angle set during the Civil War period. The dialogue and narrative, which is humorous at times (includes a fainting goat), fittingly captures life in a gold mining town. The inclusion of strong female characters, such as a freedwoman, adds to the appeal of the story. Although the plot requires suspension of disbelief (uninterrupted postal service between Idaho Springs and New Orleans during the war, and a Southern belle travelling the Great Plains unescorted), the novel is an entertaining read.