The course of women’s votes never runs smooth in this fourth case for the peerlessly cynical San Francisco Examiner columnist (Ambrose Bierce and the One-Eyed Jacks, 2002, etc.).
Suffragist impresario Mrs. Quinan has come to town with three performers she calls the Trey of Pearls: Gloria Robinson, who sings and does bird calls; Emmiline Prout, who lectures the crowds on the slavery of marriage; and Amanda Wilson, another lecturer who’s the cousin of Bierce amanuensis Tom Redmond. Local banker William Jaspers, the Noble Grand Humbug of E Clampus Vitas (“formed to protect the widder and the orphin, especially the widder”), has promised to call out hordes of his Clampers to disrupt the parade Mrs. Quinan plans. But this titanic battle is upstaged by the sudden murder of Rev. Henry Devine, the popular preacher who supported women’s right to free love and proved it every night with a different postulant. The rumor that Mrs. Jaspers had been experiencing Devine ecstasies and that Jaspers had killed the villain who besmirched his first wife’s connubial bed 20 years ago makes the Noble Grand Humbug the obvious suspect—until somebody exonerates him by shooting him as well. Now if only Bierce and Tom could track down Robert Morton, vanished son of that ill-fated first marriage . . .
A lively period romp with particularly good work by Bierce and Tom en route to a surprising solution.