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THE CHILI QUEEN by Sandra Dallas

THE CHILI QUEEN

By Sandra Dallas

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-30349-1
Publisher: St. Martin's

Varmints and vixens . . . way out west, circa the 1880s.

Addie French was famous for making the best chili in New Mexico before she moved to dusty little Nalgitas and opened a bordello called the Chili Queen. Keeping all those cowboys and miners happy with only three or four whores ain’t easy, and she even takes on a few customers herself now and then. Her only help is a powerfully built black woman who goes by the odd name of “Welcome,” since no one else wants to cook and clean for temperamental prostitutes. But Addie makes enough money to get by and takes her own pleasure with Ned, who’s hiding out at the Chili Queen after several lucrative bank robberies. Addie takes in homely mail-order bride Emma, who was abandoned by Addie’s priggish brother John and left at the depot by the man who was supposed to claim her. She treats Emma as an honored guest, thinking of making her a milliner, since she sews a fine seam. She’s nonplussed, however, when Ned takes a shine to the lonely woman. The three cook up a land-buying scheme to fleece Emma’s brother, but John insists on two conditions: he’ll return to see the land for himself, and he’ll put up only half the purchase price. By now Ned is in love with Emma, who has a magical way of looking pretty when she wants to. He plans another robbery to come up with the other half and swindle John—not realizing he’s already being taken by a pair of bunco artists. Once the double-crossing begins, it doesn’t stop, but even Addie doesn’t realize that Welcome is in on the scam as well. Interwoven are the tragic stories of Emma, John, Welcome, and Ned—providing a look at the darker history of the Old West.

Dallas’s sixth (after Alice’s Tulips, 2000, etc.) is as satisfying as a John Ford movie, with just the right touches of humor and period detail.