In the summer of 1880, Inez leaves Leadville and the Silver Queen behind to reunite with her two-year-old son, William, who had been living with her sister, Harmony, out East for the sake of his health. While taking a stagecoach ride to their meeting point at the trendy spa town of Manitou, one of Inez's fellow passengers dies a sudden and messy death after drinking his wife’s prescription tonic.
Mrs. Pace refuses to believe a heart attack killed her husband, but her concerns are downplayed by the Mountain Springs House’s resident doctor and the local marshal. She begs Inez to help her uncover the truth, but in this world of high society elegance, medical quackery, and shady real estate dealings, truth is in even shorter supply than the whiskey Inez craves.
As always, Ann Parker fleshes out her characters and settings beyond the historical mystery subplot. Inez is caught between her desire to help another woman and her complicated family problems. Her long-absent husband, Mark, reappears and worms his way back into her life, to her disgust – and just in time to challenge their divorce. Young William no longer knows her, and while Inez gets reacquainted with her sister and child, Harmony’s husband pursues a risky investment. As for where all of this leaves Inez's relationship with her clergyman lover—well, Inez doesn't know either.
This volume will have longtime readers traveling to a new part of Colorado: the Pikes Peak region, which includes the dramatic red rock formations at the Garden of the Gods. But as Inez discovers, ironically so, Manitou is even more of a man’s world than rough-and-tumble Leadville was. A murderer may still be at large, but in order to win at this dangerous game, Inez must find a man to play her hand for her.
Between the hotel owners, its medical staff, Inez’s busybody aunt, and Inez’s charming gambler of a husband, Mercury’s Rise has a wealth of strong personalities, ones you won't have met in Western fiction before. Parker retains control of her story, however, and doesn’t let them steal the show from Inez. Determined, smart, and brave, she also shows a vulnerable side she won’t let herself acknowledge.
The storyline is complex and well detailed, with many moving parts; the scene occasionally loops back to Inez’s time in Leadville, so read the chapter headings carefully to see where you are. The natural wonders of the mountain backdrop, the foul-tasting mineral waters, and the many people desperately in search of a tuberculosis cure combine to create a setting that's richly described from many angles. It all makes for an excellent novel that’s well worth diving into.
Mercury's Rise was published by Poisoned Pen Press in November at $24.95/hardback or $14.95/trade pb ($31.95 or $18.95 in Canada). Thanks to the author, I have a brand new and signed copy available to give away to an interested blog reader. Fill out the form below for your chance to win (open worldwide). Deadline Monday, January 3rd.