Combine historical fiction, a female Pinkerton Detective Agency operative, a former Texas Ranger, a bandit who’s adept at keeping his identity hidden even from the best of sleuths, mistaken identity, false assumptions, a killer on the loose, a recent murder, a Madame who sells boots, and you get an adventure you won’t quickly forget. Then add some sly humor, a little bit of romance, some great character work, and the combo makes this book irresistible.
Former Texas Ranger Tom Colton was on a mission. His brother Dave’s last letter to him had indicated a change of heart and a desire to be reconciled with his young son, whom Tom was raising. Now his brother was dead, and Tom wanted to find his murderer and bring him to justice. His recent investigations brought him to Goodman, Kansas, right to the doorstep of Miss Lillian’s Parlour House and Fine Boots. Dave had written about a Rose, one of Miss Lillian’s girls, whom he had fallen in love with and intended to marry. Tom wanted to talk with Rose, hoping to elicit her help in finding Dave’s killer. This part of his quest made him uncomfortable, but he would do whatever it took to get his man.
Jennifer Layne was a highly trained agent for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Her job often placed her undercover on a case where she could accomplish more than a man often could. Her quest had also brought her to Miss Lillian’s Parlour House where she was to talk to a Miss Rose whom the Pinkertons believed was a key to their investigation to the identity of the Gunnysack Bandit. She decided to apply to become a “resident.” She had just become established in a room and been made over to look more “decent” in Miss Lillian’s estimation, to get close to Rose. But a complication occurred when Miss Lillian discovered Rose in her room, killed but without evidence of a struggle. Jennifer’s job suddenly took a serious turn for the worse. She wondered if Rose’s death had anything to do with her investigation of the bandit.
Just moments before Rose’s death, Tom was directed upstairs to her room. He was told she was expecting him. Somehow he entered the wrong room–Jennifer’s room (as Amy Gardner). He assumed she was Rose, and Amy assumed he was a john! What ensued was a comedy of errors and gaffs until they heard Miss Lillian’s scream, sending them both out to investigate. From that point on, Amy in disguise as a “lady of the night” and Tom worked together on the case. Amy could not divulge her true identity so she had to keep her mouth firmly shut in spite of Tom’s concerns over her chosen profession. The tale comes to a satisfying conclusion, and all the misunderstandings, assumptions, clues and surprises make this a fun read.
This is the first Margaret Brownley book I have read. I’m pretty certain it won’t be the last. There are many reasons why I like this one in particular. First, there is a “who done it” thread running all throughout the story that’s well written. Tom wants to find his brother’s killer. In the process of picking up clues, he believes they lead him to the Gunnysack Bandit. Finding who this bandit is becomes his central focus. Between the Tom and Amy, clues begin to look as if Dave Colton might be the bandit. Disheartened, Tom returns home after the Pinkerton Agency concludes the same thing. But Jennifer doesn’t like the way the clues don’t exactly add up. Eventually she has an idea after the case was closed. The end solution took me completely by surprise. Kudos to the author for keeping the readers guessing right up to the end.
Second, the pull of attraction between Tom and Jennifer (as Amy) is everywhere in this tale, twisted up in the main plot, complicating the urgency of their respective tasks. It is especially evident in Tom, a man of faith. Since he believes Amy is a “sporting woman” he fights his attraction to her all the way to the final chapters. In the meantime, Jennifer has her own conflicts because she too is a person of faith. She barely manages not to compromise her convictions without revealing her involvement with Pinkerton. I was a little surprised whom she took into her confidence. I think you may be too. But it works out well in the end.
Third, the book is heavily laced with good humor from mixed up identities to misunderstandings to just plain silliness. The strands of humor and adventure work well together. This coupling brought me back to re-read the book more than twice.
Finally, I was given this book on CD to review. Jaimee Draper reads the book with so much talent and gusto that her acting ability made the story come alive. She added accents, hesitations, and mispronunciations at all the appropriate places with hilarious results. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook. For all the above reasons, I highly recommend you read it too.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”