Mystery Author Taps Into Rich Vein of Leadville's History

- Chuck Brownman, For The Daily Camera
October 26, 2003

Silver Lies by Ann Parker. Poisoned Pen Press, 420 pp. $24.95.

The fascination of historical mysteries, which are increasingly popular, lies primarily in creating plots and characters that bring alive long-ago periods.

More than other subgenres, historical mysteries are highly dependent on research, since the author must accurately portray the time and location (including language, fashion and values). Many writers of historical mysteries say that they first research the period they are trying to recreate, then develop a mystery appropriate to that time.

Some writers use their personal histories, which is what Ann Parker has done in "Silver Lies." Her great-grandfather relocated from Pennsylvania to Leadville in the 1870s, working as a blacksmith and raising a family that included her grandmother. Her grandfather worked the Colorado railroads. Her parents were raised in Denver, and her younger brother, an astronomer, still lives in Boulder.

"Silver Lies" takes place in 1879 Leadville, two years after silver was discovered there. In the "silver rush" that followed, Leadville's population quadrupled to 20,000, and the city's leaders hoped it would become Colorado's capital. Besides a thriving red-light district, Leadville boasted such "modern" conveniences as a water system, a hospital and local gas and telephone companies. Fortunes were made and lost daily, and real estate values boomed.

Against this backdrop of sudden wealth and 19th century values, fraud and counterfeiting were common, and men underestimated, used and took advantage of women. The frontier lured people looking to forget their past or alter their future. These themes all play a role in the plot of "Silver Lies."

The body of Joe Rose, a precious metals assayer, is found behind the Silver Queen, a saloon owned by Inez Stannert (whose gambler husband disappeared a few months earlier) and Abe Jackson (her husband's black friend and partner). When Emma, Joe's widow, asks Inez to settle Joe's business affairs, Inez discovers that Joe was neither the honest businessman nor the wholesome family man she thought him to be. Her questions incur the wrath of the richest man in town (who's also a spurned suitor), bring out the post-Civil War racism of the town marshal and threaten an ambitious brothel madam. An interim reverend who has just arrived shows up whenever trouble erupts and may not be who he says he is. And when Inez's own questionable past comes to light, she is forced to face unpleasant truths about herself.

Parker has captured the feel of early Leadville — the lawlessness, the boom-and-bust mentality, the hope and despair. Equally effective are her portrayals of the bone-chilling cold and wind. Descriptions of how quickly pure white snow turns into gray slush when mixed with wheels, hooves and mud, made my appreciation for streets and sidewalks rise dramatically.

Unfamiliar historical terms, many of which are unexplained and whose meanings must be discerned from the context of the story, slow down the reading. And Inez, while a strong central character, frequently proves that she's an amateur by failing to recognize clues and connections that most readers will easily see and by failing to ask logical follow-up questions of other characters.

But the positives outweigh the negatives in the book, which is published by Arizona-based Poisoned Pen Press, an independent publisher founded seven years ago to publish out-of-print books and "smaller" mysteries that are too often lost in the shuffle of publishing industry mergers and consolidations. "Silver Lies" is an enjoyable read that will let the reader experience a slice of Colorado's early history while providing an entertaining and puzzling mystery.

Chuck Brownman is an attorney and a mystery writer living in Boulder.


Additional Reviews

Reviews for Leaden Skies:

Publisher's Weekly
The Mystery Gazette
Reader Views
International Thriller Writers: The Big Thrill

Midwest Book Review
Oakland Tribune
The Leadville Herald Democrat

Reviews for Iron Ties:

Publisher's Weekly
Midwest Book Review
Crime Watch - Chicago Tribune
I love a Mystery
The BookBitch

The Cozy Library
Historical Novels Review

for Silver Lies:

Crime Watch
Publisher's Weekly
The Daily Camera
The Drood Review of Mystery
The Leadville Herald Democrat
I love a Mystery
Quincy Public Library
January Magazine
The Best Reviews
The Independent
Broomfield Enterprise

Women in World History Curriculum