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Silver Lies

Ann Parker

Poisoned Pen Press

ISBN: 1-590-58072-9

Publication Date: September, 2003

410 pages; $24.95

Date Reviewed: February 24, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004



Mystery, General Fiction

Ann Parker's debut novel is a feisty, fast-paced, feminist mystery tale set in Leadville, Colorado in 1879 at the peak of the silver boom, where the lure of vast overnight riches spawns equally vast criminal doings - murder, theft, assault, deceit, and betrayal.

Inez Stannart, a gun-toting poker dealer whose husband has gone missing, runs the Silver Queen Saloon with her free-black partner, Abe. When a local Leadville assayer, Joe Rose, is found murdered at the saloon's back door, Inez becomes an amateur sleuth with a take-no-prisoners attitude, intent on uncovering the motive and the murderer. As Inez pulls thread after thread, she unravels more mysterious goings on, more masked agendas, and ever-more complex criminal activities. The frigid iciness of Leadville in the dead of winter is matched by the icy-hearted greed of local power brokers, madams, lawmen and even men of the cloth.

Parker's first novel is an ambitious undertaking with an extensive cast of characters and a complicated plot that would challenge the most seasoned mystery-writing veteran. The Leadville of 'Silver Lies' is home to a crooked sheriff, a minister with a decidedly non-religious background, a greedy tycoon, a mute hooker and a social climbing madam. These fine citizens are rounded out with a rather sordid bunch of connivers - an effete newspaperman, an artist-cum-counterfeiter, a two-faced bar tender - and a number of relative nice-guys - a boozing doctor, a high-class madam, and a big-city Treasury agent. Even Bat Masterson himself makes an appearance about three quarters through the book.

Gambling, boozing, brawling and sex at the local bordello are the run-of-the-mill local activities. Falsified assay data, fake land claims, counterfeiting and, of course, murder, up the ante, while sincere friendships and a budding romance add emotional juice. That Parker keeps control of all these characters and all these plot elements, while keeping her readers enthralled, is to her credit. In lesser-skilled hands, this could easily become a hodge-podge stew or eye-rolling demolition derby.

'Silver Lies' zips along at a brisk pace, with never more than a page or two without another revelation or another layer spread on the puzzle. Setting the pace is protagonist Inez, a woman of action, unintimidated and unafraid, and fierce in her quest for the truth. She's a frontier feminist with Eastern upper-class breeding and a few secrets of her own whose intelligence, irreverence and chutzpa would be equally at home in a western saloon or Betty Friedan's living room.

Parker concludes 'Silver Lies' with enough of a wrap-up to be satisfying, but enough loose ends to ensure a sequel. Not surprising. Inez Stannert is way too big a character to fit in just a single book. Kudos, too, to Poisoned Pen Press for the well-produced tome and the evocative black & white historical photo from the Colorado Historical Society on the cover. Such fine attention to detail warrants praise.