It's the summer of 1880, and potential investment in Leadville's silver mines has brought former president and Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant to this city at the top of the Rockies. But others in his retinue and in town have different agendas. Political aspirations fuel the dreams of young John Quincy Adams Wesley and his mother, while itinerant fire insurance mapmaker Cecil Farnesworth struggles against the seductive call of Leadville's red-light district.
As part owner of the Silver Queen Saloon, Inez Stannert has often observed the ruination that comes from yielding to temptation. Still, that hasn't stopped her from taking Reverend Justice Sands as her lover. Nor does it stop her from striking a backroom deal with upscale brothel madam Frisco Flo, a deal that Inez gambles will make her financially independent.
But when the body of one of Flo's women is discovered and Inez learns that Flo has another silent business partner whose identity she will not divulge, Inez begins to have second thoughts. In a race to untangle the dealings of the high and the low during Grant's visit, Inez finds herself facing demons from her past, even as she fights to save her reputation and her life.
The July 1880 visit of former president Ulysses S. Grant to the mining community of Leadville, Colo., sparks Parker's third mystery (after 2006's Iron Ties), a twisty tale of murder and ambition. Saloon co-owner Inez Stannert is preoccupied with divorcing her missing husband, her affair with the local minister and her secret business partnership with the local madam when one of the madam's prostitutes is first attacked and later killed. Eager to protect her investment, Inez begins to look into the case, confronting mine owners with personal agendas; local politicians; zealous journalists; a mapmaker with a past; a determined mother with aspirations for her wastrel son; a prostitute with family obligations and hopes for a better life; and a ruthless city tax collector, appropriately nicknamed the Hatchet. Parker is proficient in showing the crossroads between civilization and the frontier, including emerging new roles for women. A cliffhanger ending sets a promising stage for the next installment.