I’m very interested in the spa and holistic cure phenomenon that has overtaken this country periodically over the last couple of centuries so, when I saw Ann Parker’s new book Mercury’s Rise, my curiosity was peaked. This is the 4th novel in the award-winning Silver Rush mystery series; however, it stands quite well on its own. I know because I haven’t read the first three books in the series. If you like historical mysteries, strong female protagonists, and/or interesting stories about Colorado and/or the West, this might be one you want to check out.
It’s the Summer of 1880 and Inez Stannert is the successful part owner of the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville, Colorado. Her husband, Mark, disappeared a little over a year ago and she’s filed for divorce based on the presumption that he has died. Unfortunately, just as the divorce is set to go through and she is ready to move on with her life, Mark reappears and acts as if life should just go on as it did before he disappeared. Needless to say that doesn’t sit well with Inez, who cannot forgive him for abandoning her and their infant son with no good explanation.
Inez can’t stand to even be around her husband, so she’s very grateful she had already planned a trip with a good friend to visit Manitou, Colorado, near Pikes Peak, where she plans to reunite with her small son and with her younger sister, Harmony, at one of the health resorts there, the Mountain Springs House Hotel. Mountain Springs is known for its curative mineral springs and its resident physician who specializes in cures for various respiratory and lung illnesses.
Their stagecoach journey to Manitou is turned from a dreadfully boring, dusty trip into a disaster when Mr. Pace, who is returning to the hotel with his wife and young children, is suddenly stricken with chest pains. He becomes immediately violently ill after consuming one of the hotel’s tonics and dies horribly in front of Inez, her companion, his wife and children. Mrs. Pace is convinced he didn’t die of natural causes and begs Inez to help her find out what happened to him. He had been planning to invest in the hotel but Mrs. Pace no longer trusts the doctor or staff. She’s sure they had something to do with his death and she believes Inez is the person to help her prove it.
On the surface that seems absurd but then Inez begins to learn about other odd deaths associated with the clinic, even though the clinic has gained a reputation for miraculous cures. She isn’t there long before she begins to suspect something very fishy is going on and she becomes even more determined to discover what it is when she learns her two-year-old son and her sister are being treated by the doctors there. As she digs to uncover the hotel’s and clinic’s secrets, the danger mounts for herself and those around her – and the body count begins to rise. How is Inez going to protect her son, her sister and her friends? Yet if she doesn’t do anything, who will discover who’s killing off hotel guests and patients and stop them?
There were a lot of wrong-headed and dangerous notions for what could cure asthma, bronchitis, TB and other lung disorders in the 19th century. A lot of quacks set up shop and people flocked to get the latest cure. When you’re suffering and regular medicine doesn’t have the answers, you’ll search anywhere for a glimmer of hope. Ann Parker has done a wonderful job in Mercury’s Rise of painting a picture of the kinds of curative spas and clinics flourishing in the latter part of the 19th century. She actually wrote very interesting notes about that area at the end of the novel.
Mercury’s Rise is a wonderful peek into Western life during this period, with several strong female characters you’ll enjoy for different reasons. It’s also a great example of East Coast Victorian values and sensibilities juxtaposed against a Western background – talk about fish out of water. I found the whole thing a lot of fun. Even though the mystery wasn’t that hard for me to figure out, I was still very caught up in the story to the very end.
Mercury’s Rise was released on November 1, 2011, so it should be available from any of your favorite booksellers below:
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