A photographer’s aspirations take her West in the 1920s, right into a mysterious murder case.
Leaving Chicago to pursue her dream of taking photographs more interesting than her humdrum portrait work, Nellie Burns settles in at Mrs. Bock’s boardinghouse in Ketchum, a beaten-down Idaho mining town. She hires Rosy Kipling, a drunken former miner, to haul her and her equipment out of town to an area where she can take nighttime pictures of shadows on the snow. Wearing snowshoes and using a sled to haul her heavy camera, she approaches the apparently deserted Last Chance Ranch and snaps a few pictures when her attention is attracted by a tapping on the window glass, and she discovers a dog she names Moonshine and a dead body. During the night the body vanishes, but not before Nellie takes a picture of it. When Rosy and Sheriff Azgo, a Basque, arrive in the morning, they don’t believe her story. She only makes herself more of a suspect when she returns to search for the body and finds another corpse, that of Ah Kee, a Chinese herbalist whose wife and son now believe she killed him. Nellie’s life becomes even more complicated when someone tries to steal her negatives. She barely escapes injury while using a colleague’s studio to print her pictures and is terrorized on a visit to a working mine. The small town is clearly hiding many secrets, and if Nellie can’t uncover them, the next corpse may be hers.
This debut mystery from Weston (The Good Times Are All Gone Now: Life, Death, and Rebirth in an Idaho Mining Town, 2009) authentically portrays the gritty mining towns and the wild beauty of Idaho while presenting a challenging puzzle.