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Edith/Maddie north of Boston, where spring might be peeking at us!
I’m super happy to welcome Ann Parker back to the blog. I love her historical mysteries, which began in Leadville, Colorado, and followed Inez Stannert to San Francisco. I can’t wait to read The Secret in the Wall, book #8 in the Silver Rush Mysteries series, which came out last month.
Here’s the blurb: Inez Stannert has reinvented herself―again. Fleeing the comfort and wealth of her East Coast upbringing, she became a saloon owner and card sharp in the rough silver boomtown of Leadville, Colorado, always favoring the unconventional path―a difficult road for a woman in the late 1800s. Now living in San Francisco, Inez works hard to keep a respectable, loving home for her young ward, Antonia. But risk is a seductive friend, difficult to resist. When a skeleton and a bag of gold coins tumble from the wall of her latest business investment, Inez uses her street smarts and sheer will to unearth a secret that someone has already killed to keep buried.
Inez Stannert and her ilk—Badass Women of the West
When Edith asked me if I’d like to contribute a post on this month’s theme, “Badass Women from the Before Times,” I jumped at the chance. Such women—real or fictional—are always fascinating to explore.
My protagonist Inez Stannert made her appearance in Silver Lies, the first book of my Silver Rush historical series set in Leadville, Colorado, in the American West. Publishers Weekly described her as “the poker-playing, straight-talking, gun-toting owner of the Silver Queen Saloon.” If all those adjectives don’t sum up her badass-ery, I’m not sure what would. In 1879, when Silver Lies opens, if a woman strayed a bit outside the lines of propriety, she risked getting slammed for it. However, in the U.S. “Wild West” those lines were often a little less distinct and there was a bit more room to breathe (corsets allowing) than in the East.
In my newest book, The Secret in the Wall, it is 1882. Much has transpired between Silver Lies and this, the eighth book in the series. Inez has moved to San Francisco and is guardian to 13-year-old Antonia Gizzi, who keeps Inez on her toes and is a badass-bitch-in-training. Inez owns a music store and provides financial assistance to local women-run businesses on the side. She still plays poker on occasion, but only friendly, penny ante with a few of the musicians who frequent her store… nothing like the high-stakes, high-octane games she ran at the Silver Queen Saloon.
Inez is determined to weave a new life for herself and Antonia in San Francisco, but trouble—and mystery— complicate her efforts to walk the straight-and-narrow. In The Secret in the Wall, Inez has formed a business relationship with the very prim and proper boardinghouse owner, Moira Krause. Together, they bought the vacant residence that adjoins Moira’s house, so the common wall can be knocked down and Moira’s business expanded. All their plans go sideways when the wall is breached, and a skeleton dressed in tattered military wear tumbles out, along with a bag of gold coins. Compounding the horror of those present, a glass eye disengages from the skull and rolls across the floor. Antonia’s eyes widen, and she whispers, “Pirates!” Knowing Antonia’s penchant for the tale of Treasure Island, Inez fears her ward’s mind is awhirl with devious little thoughts. But Inez has her own concerns to address, such as determining the identity of the long departed and making sure the gold remains with its rightful owners—that is, herself and Moira.
As a woman who marches to the beat of her own drummer in the 19th century, Inez may be unusual, but perhaps not as unusual as you might think. Coinciding with Inez’s time in San Francisco, for instance, is Mary Ellen Pleasant, an entrepreneur, financier, real estate magnate and abolitionist, who listed herself in the 1890 census as “a capitalist.” Pleasant is mentioned on this Wickeds post on favorite women in history https://wickedauthors.com/2019/03/06/wicked-wednesday-favorite-woman-in-history/, and you can read more about her on FoundSF https://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Mary_Ellen_Pleasant.
Much earlier in San Francisco’s history, there was landowner and businesswoman Juana Briones https://www.foundsf.org/index.php?title=Juana_Briones. When California became part of the United States, Mexican landholders were required to certify their land ownership through a complicated legal process. Briones hired a lawyer and took her legal battle for property ownership all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, emerging victorious. Many other fascinating, strong-minded women populated the 19th-century West, including Lillie Hitchcock Coit (“Firebelle Lil”), Lotta Crabtree, and Donaldina Cameron in San Francisco, and Molly Brown, Doc Susie, Mattie Silks, and Alice Ivers (Poker Alice), who made their names in Colorado and elsewhere.
With so many role models out there, you may be wondering who my female protagonist is based on. To create her, I turned, in part, to my forbearers for inspiration. I gave her my Granny Parker’s maiden name, Inez Stannert, and my Grandmother Elsie’s olive skin, hazel eyes, dark brown hair, and cool demeanor.
These are women you won’t read about in the pages of history, but their stories tell of a generation. My Granny Parker moved west from Pennsylvania as a child, when her blacksmith father found employment in Leadville. My Grandmother Elsie left Iowa to teach in Arizona, when it was still a territory. They both married (for better for worse), and raised their children through the 1918 Flu Pandemic, a world war, and the Great Depression, doing the best they could during very tough times. They had steel in their spines, not just their corsets. So, I gifted my fictional Inez with the grit and determination of these women and others I’ve known throughout my life, as well as those I’d read about in my research.
With such real women from historical “before times,” it almost seems unnecessary to defend my Inez as being “of her time.” Although she would consider being labelled a badass as fightin’ words indeed, she would probably embrace the admiration and nod of approval such an appellation carries today.
Readers: What saying / piece of advice from a “strong-willed” woman has stuck with you? (For me, it’s “Life’s not fair.” This was invoked regularly by my mother when we kids whined… and I guess we must have whined a lot!)
I’ll send one of you (US-only) a copy of the new book and a Starbucks gift card – because books and coffee/tea just go sooooo well together!
California native Ann Parker is a science writer by day and fiction writer at night. Her award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series is set in the 1880s U.S. West. Of the newest in the series, THE SECRET IN THE WALL, Kirkus Reviews says, “The year 1882 launches Inez Stannert―sleuth, card shark, musician, saloon owner, and helper of ambitious women―on another adventure…a mystery based on true events and replete with rich period detail, that’s a delight to read.” SECRET was released in February 2022 by Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks, and is an Historical Novel Society Editors’ Choice.
Ann is listed in the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame and is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Women Writing the West, Western Writers Association, National Association of Science Writers, and a whole passel of other organizations (because, yes, she is a joiner). Find out more about Ann and her books at https://annparker.net/