It is summer 1880, and Inez Stannert, one of the partners in the Silver Queen Saloon in Leadville, Colorado, travels with her photographer friend Susan to the fashionable summer retreat of Manitou for a reunion with her son, now a toddler in the care of her sister. On the way, fellow stagecoach passenger Edward Pace suddenly grows faint, swigs some medicine, and dies under their horrified gaze. Pace's widow rejects a weak heart theory and begs Inez to investigate. As Inez digs deeper, she uncovers the shady side of spa tourism including spurious claims, profiteering from the coming bonanza in medicinal waters and miracle cures, and medical practitioners who kindle false hopes in the desperate and the dying. Then Inez's husband Mark reappears after a year and a half's unexplained absence. Now she must fight to hold on to her child and the life she has built for herself in an era where "independent woman" is an oxymoron.
Set in the summer of 1880, Parker's engaging fourth historical featuring saloon owner Inez Stannert (after 2009's Leaden Skies) finds Inez riding a stagecoach from Leadville, Colo., to the town of Manitou, where her two-year-old son, William, has been cared for by her sister, Harmony DuChamps. The bumpy trip takes a fatal turn when a fellow passenger, businessman Edward Pace, keels over after imbibing a medicinal tonic. Inez's awkward reunion with William, who doesn't recognize her and is known by her sister's married name, naturally preoccupies her at first, but she soon finds herself investigating Pace's death and its possible connection with Manitou's Mountain Springs House spa, where she's a guest. Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that's an easy jumping-on point for newcomers. Fans of independent female sleuths like Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy and Laurie King's Mary Russell will be satisfied.