A dangerous business

by Smiley, Jane,

Format: Print Book 2022
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Summary
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of A Thousand Acres : An amazing "mash-up of a Western, a serial-killer mystery and a feminist-inflected tale of life in a bordello" ( The Washington Post).

In 1850s Gold Rush California two young prostitutes, best friends Eliza and Jean, attempt to find their way in a lawless town on the fringes of the Wild West--a bewitching combination of beauty and danger--as what will become the Civil War looms on the horizon.

"Everyone knows that this is a dangerous business, but between you and me, being a woman is a dangerous business, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise..."

Monterey, 1851. Ever since her husband was killed in a bar fight, Eliza Ripple has been working in a brothel. It seems like a better life, at least at first. The madam, Mrs. Parks, is kind, the men are (relatively) well behaved, and Eliza has attained what few women have: financial security. But when the dead bodies of young women start appearing outside of town, a darkness descends that she can't resist confronting. Side by side with her friend Jean, and inspired by her reading, especially by Edgar Allan Poe's detective Dupin, Eliza pieces together an array of clues to try to catch the killer, all the while juggling clients who begin to seem more and more suspicious.

Eliza and Jean are determined not just to survive, but to find their way in a lawless town on the fringes of the Wild West--a bewitching combination of beauty and danger--as what will become the Civil War looms on the horizon. As Mrs. Parks says, "Everyone knows that this is a dangerous business, but between you and me, being a woman is a dangerous business, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise ..."
Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "In 1851, Monterey, California, is a laid-back way station for gold speculators. Eliza Whipple feels the seaside vibe is just about heaven compared to her blustery Michigan hometown. Left on her own after her scoundrel husband is killed, Eliza has forged on by providing pleasure to sailors and local ranchers at Mrs. Parks' brothel. Mrs. Parks, who swears that "being a woman is dangerous business," pays well and screens her customers even better. For Eliza, danger feels remote until Monterey sex workers begin to disappear. Everyone in town knows local law enforcement isn't looking for the missing women. After Eliza and her gender-bending best friend, Jean, read Poe's "Murder in the Rue Morgue," their curiosity is sparked, and they decide to deploy Auguste Dupin's detecting techniques to investigate the disappearances. Sleuthing proves harder off the page, however, and Eliza's newfound suspicions about the men she encounters may not be enough to keep her safe from Monterey's stalker. Pulitzer-winning Smiley's evocative sense of place and nuanced exploration of women's roles in nineteenth-century American life nicely complement the portrait of Eliza and her determined effort to forge her own path. Eliza and Jean's Poe-influenced crusade to restore importance to disappeared women makes a deliciously ironic story-driver. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Amy Stewart's Kopp Sisters mysteries."
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley (Perestroika in Paris) spins a remarkable story of the California gold rush and a pair of sex worker sleuths who track down the culprit behind a series of disappearances. After 21-year-old Eliza Cargill Ripple's husband is killed in a bar brawl, she goes to work in the efficiently run and well-guarded brothel of beneficent madam Mrs. Parks. It's Mrs. Parks who says the "risky business" of prostitution is a "dangerous" one, but so is, for these characters, simply being a woman. Eliza's customers are a mix of the young and old, wandering sailors, adulterous husbands, judges, and lawyers. One day, Eliza establishes what she terms her life's " first true friendship" with Jean MacPherson, a colleague who services "reticent" women and often dresses as a man. Most of the characters are transplants from back east who've landed in town with new names and new identities, and when several of them--all women--disappear, Eliza and Jean become a formidable duo of amateur sleuths whose deductive skills were gained by reading Edgar Allan Poe (especially "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"). Harnessing's Poe's character Dupin's "train of logic," the women suss out the most likely culprit and hatch a cleverly devised trap. The vivid historical details and vibrant characters bring Smiley's setting to glorious life. This seductive entertainment is not to be missed. (Dec.)"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Widows -- Fiction.
Brothels -- Fiction.
Murder -- Fiction.
Monterey (Calif.) -- Fiction.
Historical fiction.
Detective and mystery fiction.
Publisher New York :Alfred A. Knopf,2022
Edition First edition.
Language English
Notes "This is a Borzoi book"--Title page verso.
Description 207 pages ; 25 cm
ISBN 9780525520337
0525520333
9780525436089
0525436081
Other Classic View