Meet Inez Stannert, the poker-playing, straight-talking, gun-toting owner of the Silver Queen Saloon and the heroine of Parker's excellent debut, set in wintry Leadville, Colo., during the 1879 silver boom. Inez is married, yet her husband disappeared six months earlier with nary a trace. Her partner at the saloon, Abe Jackson, happens to be a free black man, to the dismay of much of Leadville's uptight and prejudiced populace. When a frozen corpse turns up in the mucky alley behind the saloon, Inez and Abe, still reeling from the damage caused by a barroom brawl, are shocked to learn it's their friend, precious-metals assayer Joe Rose. Joe, it seems, had a gambling problem and a nasty secret. His death puts Inez and Abe at odds with a crooked lawman, an infamous madam, a spurned suitor and the mysterious stranger who rides into town as the new minister. Drawing on historic facts and figures of 1870s Colorado, Parker tells a gripping tale of love, greed and murder in the Old West, with a cast of convincing, larger-than-life characters, including a brief appearance from Bat Masterson himself. Inez is a woman well ahead of her time and a welcome addition to the genre, as is Parker, who has left enough loose ends to beckon readers to the next Leadville mystery.
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