Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors. She never writes the same book twice. I fell for her writing with the first book I read, The Persian Pickle Club. It remains one of my favorites, along with Tallgrass. Now, she introduces readers to a part of our history that has often been covered romantically, prostitution in the American West. But, Dallas lets us see it through the eyes of a prostitute's sister in Fallen Women. And, Beret Osmundsen is an unusual woman herself.
Beret Osmundsen arrives in Denver in 1885, leaving her life as a wealthy New York socialite to find the person who killed her younger sister, Lillie. Beret is more than a dilettante. She continues to run the mission her mother established where poor women could get care for themselves and their children. Beret has worked with abused women, women struggling to get food for their children, women who turned to prostitution. And, she can't forgive herself for expelling Lillie from their house. But, she thought Lillie would be safe at their aunt and uncle's in Denver. Instead, she ended up working in a brothel where she was killed. Beret suspects Lillie knew the killer, and she's determined to make amends by finding justice for her sister.
Detective Mick McCauley has been working in Denver for ten years, but even he hasn't often seen a murder as brutal as Lillie's. He's reluctant to let a lady work with him, but it isn't long before he grudgingly learns to admire Beret's grit and determination. However, all of their beliefs about the case may prove to be wrong when another prostitute is killed.
Journalist turned novelist, Sandra Dallas, has done her research. She describes the lives of those who end up in in the worst living conditions in gritty detail. Dallas doesn't glorify the lives of "soiled doves". She does use the descriptions of muckraking journalists to show how they spun stories, sometimes making them appear sordid, sometimes romanticizing them. And, she describes the up-and-coming city of Denver and its nouveau riche.
This time around, Dallas introduces two fascinating characters in Beret and Mick. Beret is so much more than a wealthy socialite. And, Mick is more than he appears. The working relationship between the two seems very unusual for 1885, but it works perfectly in this story. And, Dallas knows how to leave an intriguing story with a promising ending.
Once in a while, Dallas has written a book that hasn't quite lived up to my expectations. Fallen Women isn't one of those. It ranks right up there with The Persian Pickle Club, Tallgrass, and Prayers for Sale as one of Sandra Dallas' books that will linger in memory.
Sandra Dallas' website is www.SandraDallas.com
Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press. 2013. ISBN 9781250030931 (hardcover), 344p.
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