A feisty 19-year-old prostitute narrates, and dominates, Scottish playwright Hannan’s adventurous first novel: a tale of America’s Wild West during the late-19th-century Silver Rush.
Pert, forthright Dol McQueen is one of the “flash-girls” who forsake the fleshpots of San Francisco to ply their trade in Nevada’s Virginia City, where men are rumored to be newly rich and ripe for plucking. En route, Dol is herself seduced by a blissful hit of liquid opium, illicitly acquired by a pimp named Pontius, who impulsively entrusts his stash to Dol for safekeeping. But Virginia City is no Shangri-La. Dol’s ingenuous and hard-bitten colleagues (hopeful Ness, depressive Cordelia, been-there-done-that Sadie et al.) keep falling for the wrong men (as does Dol herself, temporarily smitten with a one-armed, inconveniently married police chief). Gangs of hired thugs keep materializing, engaged to retrieve the fugitive opium and return it to the Chinese gang boss from whom Pontius stole it. (The efforts of Dol and her cohorts to elude their pursuers suggest a black-comic gloss on Cormac McCarthy’s doom-laden No Country for Old Men.) And there is the problem of Dol’s mother Isobel, a veteran hooker with a history of misbehavior that ought to have earned her a lifetime sexual license, and has produced an impressive number of gullible husbands (“Mama’s a pentagamist,” Dol sagely observes). Hannan evokes the rough-and-ready period in blistering detail, and creates a vivid gallery of misfits and eccentrics (the incorrigible Pontius is a particularly engaging slimeball). But his novel lives in the irresistible person and voice of Dol, a girl who knows her own weaknesses, and her worth (“…we generally earn more per diem than a senator, and our reputations are less spotted in the eyes of the public”).
A rib-tickling picaresque romp with a heart of gold that even a hellfire-and-damnation preacher would warm to. Don’t miss it.