A wealthy widow and her son, arriving in Portland, Ore., to bury her husband in 1868, find themselves in unexpected danger.
Emily Stratton, the daughter of Methodist missionaries killed in an uprising, has spent most of her life in Shanghai. She has no tears for her husband, a licentious man who made her life miserable. His business partners are anxious for her to leave matters in their hands, but Emily, less pliable than she seems, begins to look into his business affairs. She soon learns that he made his money from such sordid trades as opium. After her Chinese cook is found shot, a business acquaintance of her husband turns up brutally murdered in her kitchen. Meantime, her beloved son Robert is secretly indulging his wild side with visits to low taverns where he drinks, fornicates and samples the drug that made his father rich. Despite her nontraditional background and sympathy for the Chinese, Emily has made a few friends in Portland, and she enjoys some support from her sister-in-law and her husband. But she feels her Irish maid is the only person she can really trust. As she continues to delve into her husband’s past, her situation becomes ever more precarious. Can she find the killer before she becomes the next victim?
Newman (The Witch in the Well, 2004, etc.) combines history and mystery in a carefully crafted, delightful tale filled with unsentimental scenes of Portland’s rowdy past.