This historical novel follows a group of prostitutes who grapple with love, loss and murder in the Old West of the late 1800’s.
In Strickland’s debut novel, the heroine, a plucky young woman named Polly, tries to maintain her integrity in the midst of the brothel where she works. All of the women who work at Belle’s Place, in fact, are loving and good-hearted to the core. They form a makeshift family that helps them endure the trials and tribulations of living as prostitutes in the dog-eat-dog world of the American West. At the head of this family are the madam, Belle Cameron, and Quinton, a Native American who works as a sort of bouncer for the house. The group must band together to protect Polly when, in self-defense, she and Quinton kill an important client and the dead man’s wife is falsely accused of the crime. To make matters more complicated, Polly falls in love with a Chinese immigrant named Ben, and the two must overcome racial prejudice as they decide to make their lives together. Strickland crafts an entertaining story and brings it to life in a unique setting. She creates an array of strong, tough women who drive the plot. However, too many of the female characters blend together and seem more like stereotypical prostitutes with hearts of gold rather than fully fleshed-out characters. All of these women are beautiful and hardworking, and they secretly yearn for real love and family outside of their profession. By contrast, the murder victim’s wife and her snooty compatriots come across like caricatures of cold, unfeeling socialites, despite Strickland’s clear attempts to draw attention to their perspectives as well. Finally, the subplot about Ben and Polly combating racial violence doesn’t quite come together with the larger murder plot as seamlessly as it should. Whenever the action leaves the brothel and the town of Pendleton where it is based, the story gets a bit confusing. The final, climactic act that is supposed to weave the two storylines together doesn’t quite have a punch. All in all, Strickland crafts an engaging tale, but it doesn’t quite live up to the potential of its premise.
An enjoyable but flawed novel with entertaining characters.