Bringing the Past to Life through History-Mystery
I’ll begin with a big THANK YOU to Kat for offering me a chance to participate in her Friday Feature so I can introduce you to my Silver Rush historical mystery series.
My books take place primarily—but not entirely!—in 1880 Leadville, Colorado. Leadville is a real town up at the 10,000 foot mark in the Rocky Mountains. Why, you may ask, did I settle on setting an historical mystery series in Leadville? Well, as my Uncle Walt, a Colorado native, once enthused to me, “Leadville was the site of one of the biggest silver rushes in the world! People came from all over, thinking they’d get rich overnight…”
Since I have lived in California all my life, I well understood frenetic craziness that ensues when folks get hooked into the “get rich quick” frame of mind (think: dot-com boom, real-estate bubble, etc.).
Uncle Walt continued, “…They didn’t realize that you couldn’t just pick silver ‘nuggets’ up off the ground, and that’s when all the trouble started.”
My uncle’s enthusiasm for Leadville was infectious, so I began to research Leadville and her history, and to fashion my characters. I decided to make my protagonist Inez Stannert, named after my paternal grandmother, who was raised in Leadville but never breathed a word about it to me, despite her love of telling stories of her life in Denver (yet another mystery!). My fictional Inez Stannert runs the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville along with her husband’s business partner, Abe Jackson, a free man of color.
When the first book in the series, Silver Lies, opens, the reader quickly learns that Inez’s husband, gambler and all-around-charmer Mark Stannert, has been missing for close to nine months. What has happened to him? Did he perish by falling down one of the many mining shafts? Did he just “up and leave?” Is he alive or dead? Well, such questions were not easily answered in 1880 (no Social Security numbers for tracking people down, for instance). So, Inez and Abe carry on as best they can.
A woman running a saloon in the wide-open boomtown of Leadville is unusual, but not unheard of: in the 1880 census, 228 men claimed the occupation of saloon keeper or bartender, compared to 3 women. So, who is Inez? She is a woman in a man’s world. She runs a high-stakes poker game, holds her whiskey with the best, plays piano beautifully enough to “make the angels weep.” She also carries a Remington pocket revolver, because who knows when trouble will strike in this tumultuous town, where the law is overwhelmed by the lawless?
I conveniently set the Silver Queen Saloon on the corner of the business and red-light districts. Between that and the general “silver-induced frenzy” the silver boom brought to this region, I had no trouble at all fashioning stories that weave real-life events into my fiction. For instance, in Silver Lies, folks are “dying to get rich.” In the second book, Iron Ties, I explore the (real-life) railroad wars that finally brought the iron horse to Leadville, as well as the plight of the town and railroad’s Civil War vets, many still suffering from the aftermath of the conflict 15 years after the war’s end. The third, Leaden Skies, features the arrival of former president and Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant to town on a five-day visit. I refer to this one as my “dirty politics” book. (The more things change, the more they stay the same. Such seems to be the course of human history.)
Of course, there are mysterious deaths, confidence games, tomfoolery of various kinds, and everyone has their secrets—even Inez, who I like to describe as a woman with a shadowy past, a complicated present, and an uncertain future. The series also provides a bit of romance… but I won’t say much about that in fear of spoilers.
As I said above, my series takes place mostly—but not entirely!—in Colorado. The sixth and newest book in my series, A Dying Note, finds Inez in 1881 San Francisco, California. Now manager of a music store, she is trying to forge a new life for herself in the “Paris of the West” and put her unsavory years in Leadville behind her. However, as the Kirkus Review of this book notes, “Leaving behind a life of secrets proves no easy task.” Inez carefully constructed life threatens to tumble about her ears when the badly beaten body of a young musician washes up to shore. Inez becomes entangle in the mystery of his death when the musician turns out to have ties to Leadville, ties that threaten to explore Inez’s notorious past. Publishers Weekly praises the “fascinating period details, flamboyant characters, and surprising plot twists,” of A Dying Note, adding, “Parker leaves the reader longing to see what Inez will get up to next.”
As to what new mysteries and challenges Inez may face in the seventh book, all I will say is: stay tuned!
Ann Parker lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is a science writer by day and a crime fiction author by night. Her Silver Rush historical series, featuring protagonist Inez Stannert and published by Poisoned Pen Press, has won numerous awards, including the Colorado Book Award, the Colorado Gold Award, the Willa Literary Award, and the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award.
Find out more about Ann and her series at http://annparker.net/
On Wednesdays she blogs at http://silverrushmysteries.blogspot.com/
She spends way too much time on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/annparker.writer
And pins interesting historical bits from her research on Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/annparkerauthor/