2018 - CIPA EVVY Winner for Mystery/Crime/Detective2018 - CIPA EVVY 2nd Place for Historical Fiction
It's autumn of 1881, and Inez Stannert, still the co-owner of Leadville, Colorado's Silver Queen saloon, is settled in San Francisco with her young ward, Antonia Gizzi. Inez has turned her business talents to managing a music store, hoping to eventually become an equal partner in the enterprise with the store's owner, a celebrated local violinist.
Inez's carefully constructed life for herself and Antonia threatens to tumble about her ears when the badly beaten body of a young musician washes up on the filthy banks of San Francisco's Mission Creek canal. Inez and Antonia become entangled in the mystery of his death when the musician turns out to have ties to Leadville, ties that threaten to expose Inez's notorious past. And they aren't the only ones searching for answers. Wolter Roeland de Bruijn, "finder of the lost," has also been tasked with ferreting out the perpetrators and dispensing justice in its most final form. Leadville's leading madam Frisco Flo, an unwilling visitor to the city with a Leadville millionaire, is on the hook as well, having injudiciously financed the young musician's journey to San Francisco in the first place.
Time grows short as Inez and the others uncover long-hidden secrets and unsettled scores. With lives and reputations on the line, the tempo rises until the investigation's final, dying note.
About the Author
Ann Parker is the author of the awardwinning Silver Rush historical mystery series set in 1880s Colorado, featuring saloon owner Inez Stannert. A science writer by day, Ann lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Women Writing the West.
Read an Excerpt
San Francisco, Mission Bay Sunday, November 6, 1881
Not my hands!
Throat crushed, blood gurgled, words choked so they screamed only in the mind.
Sight dimmed — towering bales of hay faded into gray shapes under a near-full moon.
Touch heightened — sharp pieces of straw stabbed into shaking fingers scrabbling to gain purchase on the wharf 's rough planks.
Smell overwhelmed — a cesspool, an open sewer, bubbled below the splintered planks of the wharf.
Vomit rose, nowhere to go, choking further.
How did this happen? Why?
The why was clear. The how? It had only been words at first. Hot words flung back and forth like weapons, hurled like stones. Then, all that had been uncovered slipped out. The lies, the larceny, the truth. The truth had shoved them past words, into the realm of no return. A hard shove. A shove back. A wild swing that connected, yielding a yelp and curse.
A returning blow, but not by a hand. Something heavy, crushing, landing on the throat.
Even now, with breath trapped behind blood and broken cartilage, words clamored, shouted out to be set free, to be heard:
Not my hands!
Then a command, but was it from without or within? Spoken or thought?
On your knees!
Rolling over, pain flared. Palms pushed flat on boards, trying to pull the knees up to obey the order. Limbs rebelled, juddering on the planks, no longer servants of the brain.
Hearing remained — ever faithful. Nearby, the dull thuds and creaks of anchored ships. At a distance, muffled shouts too far away to help. Beyond the wharves, clamor wafted from the saloons, cheap restaurants, and bawdy houses squatting near the drawbridge that spanned malodorous Mission Creek.
Sounds grew closer, ragged breathing, rapid tempo, from high above the fingertips, stinging and raw, above the cheek resting on the planks, wet with blood. Finally, the voice spoke, crackling with anger, aflame with a rage as intense as the fire that engulfed a hay scow a fortnight ago, burning through its mooring and sending it adrift, flaming bright, on an ebb tide out into the night-dark bay.
"Did you think you would get away with this? Destroying me? Destroying us?"
Not my hands!
This time, the trapped words must have escaped, because the voice above came closer, answering. "Not your hands? Very well. That, I can grant you."
The blow to the back of the head shattered the vision of warped wood boards into splinters. Those splinters flew up, whirling, changing into thin, stinging shards of pain. Another blow, and another. The pain spun into clamorous song piercing all thought, drowning all words, the music of life spilling out in red, red sound, before falling into darkness and silence.
San Francisco Business District Monday, November 7, 1881
The church bell cacophony began at six in the morning.
Just as it did every day.
And just as she did every day, Inez Stannert, startled awake by the clamor, rolled over and tugged her pillow over her head, damning the day she'd leapt at the chance to move into the rooms above the music store she managed.
Living quarters, gratis.
It had seemed such a good deal at the time, when the storeowner, celebrated violinist Nico Donato, had made the offer.
However, after she and her twelve-year-old ward, Antonia Gizzi, took up residence above the shop at the corner of San Francisco's Pine and Kearney streets, Inez realized that, surrounded as they were by churches of every possible denomination, the daily calls to prayer were nearly deafening. She considered it a sadistic trick of Fate — a particularly ironic variety of Hell, actually — that she should be constantly reminded of the heavy presence of Christian faith. Particularly given that her absent lover was a minister.
Pillow clutched to her ears, Inez allowed herself a moment to compare the competitive clanging of the nearby houses of worship here to that in her previous life. In the high mountain town of Leadville, Colorado, the distant sound of church bells took wing, a seductive call to soul-lifting contemplation of Heaven and the promises of eternal life. Here in San Francisco, Inez suspected a more insidious intent. It was no secret that the density of churches in the "golden city" increased in proportion to their proximity to Chinatown and the Barbary Coast, in hopes of luring lost souls into the fold with promises of eternal salvation and dire threats of eternal damnation. The D & S House of Music and Curiosities was situated close to the two unsavory neighborhoods as well as near the city's business district. Thus, Inez suffered the torments of the damned at regular hours throughout the day when the bells vied with each other.
Still, their discordant clanging served to rouse Inez and Antonia in good time on school days.
Inez had the coffee boiling on the small stove in what passed for their kitchen when Antonia finally dragged herself in, rubbing her eyes, her black hair an untamed mane. Inez brought over a mug of coffee, liberally laced with milk and sugar, set it on the table by the hairbrush, comb, and ribbons, and pointed wordlessly to the chair. Antonia sat and sipped, wincing as Inez attacked her hair with taming implements. With her locks finally plaited and beribboned, Antonia said, "I don't see why I can't cut it all off."
Inez smiled grimly. And with that, you'd be dressing as a boy and running loose through the city in trousers, just as you were in Leadville, when I first met you and your mother. May she rest in peace. But all she said was, "You have beautiful hair. Hair like your mother's." She smoothed it with one hand. "Treasure it as a gift from her, just as you treasure your little knife and her fortune-telling cards."
Antonia sighed and nibbled at the thick slice of bread slathered with butter. "It'd just be easier," she mumbled. Then, apropos of nothing, "I don't want to go to school anymore."
Inez crossed her arms, silver-backed hairbrush in one hand. "What brought this on?"
A stubborn silence was her only answer.
Inez set the hairbrush on the table. "Did you not finish your lessons this weekend? Is that the problem?"
Antonia pinched off a corner of her bread and rolled it into a tight little ball of dough, before finally replying, "The kids are hoity-toities. The teachers all high-and-mighty. The school is stodgified and I'm not learnin' nothing. I can learn my numbers and letters fine helping you in the music store."
Suspecting a deeper reason, Inez pressed. "Before we left Leadville, you were looking forward to school." She let the statement hang there.
Antonia's gaze flickered to the side.
At Antonia's silence, Inez said briskly, "Well then, I'll accompany you to school today, talk to your teacher, and get to the bottom of this."
Antonia's eyes widened in alarm. "No!" She clenched her jaw, then said in a low voice, defiant, hardly above a whisper, "I cut a boy."
Inez flashed on the small but deadly salvavirgo Antonia carried with her everywhere. At first glance, with its little blade folded away, it looked the most innocuous of weapons. Delicate little flowers were carved into the ivory at the top of the handle where the blade folded; a small inlaid figure of a fox gazed over its shoulder where a palm would naturally curl around the grip.
But Inez was very aware of its sharpness and the speed with which Antonia could whip it out and open it.
"I didn't hear about this. I would have thought the principal would send me a note."
Antonia laughed, a short bark. "It was after school, last week. And d'you think that ninny'd tell anyone he was beat up by a girl?"
Inez briefly weighed whether a good whipping might be in order. It was exactly what her parents would have done, and did do, when she dared to be uppity and huffish.
One look at Antonia's face, which had something hurt and bruised about it, changed her mind.
"Why did you do it?"
Antonia looked up. Her straightforward bi-colored gaze — one eye blue, the other brown — met Inez's query without wavering. "He said only gypsies had eyes like mine and called me the bastard of a gypsy whore." The slight trembling of her mouth, which she tried hard to control, convinced Inez that she was telling the truth.
"You were not wearing your glasses?" Inez had bought a pair of tinted glasses for Antonia to keep her unusual eyes concealed.
Antonia looked down at the uneaten crust on her plate. "I was. I told him to leave me alone, but he wouldn't. He pulled my glasses off my face and threw them on the ground. At least they didn't break. He's always doing things like that to kids in the lower grades. Smashing their glasses, tossing their lunch tins into the streets, giving them a black eye."
"Well, it sounds like you taught him a lesson, then. Perhaps he will think twice before picking on someone smaller than he is. In any case, dropping school is not an option. The value of education is not simply in learning one's sums and the rules of grammar. School provides a place where one becomes familiar with the way things are done, how to negotiate one's way through life and society. Such lessons extend to how to deal with bullies without resorting to physical fights." Inez added pointedly, "Too, you know our situation here. We dare not cause any trouble for Mr. Donato, no hint of impropriety or unbecoming conduct from you or from me."
Antonia's hand curled into a fist around the compressed ball of dough.
Inez continued, "Next time, if there is any trouble at all, you will tell me right away. If I had known about this incident on Friday, I would have made sure that you were not bothered again." The steel in Inez's tone made it clear that these were not empty words, but a promise.
Inez faced the stove and poured herself a cup of coffee. "Run along now. Be sure to pick up your lunch at Mrs. Nolan's, and be careful crossing Market."
"I'm not a baby," said Antonia.
Inez turned and crossed her arms. "Excuse me?"
"Yes, ma'am," Antonia muttered.
Bonnet tied under her chin, tinted glasses masking her eyes, empty lunch bucket in hand awaiting Mrs. Nolan's sourdough sandwich and dill pickles, Antonia slung the book strap over her shoulder and headed to the stairs that would take her down and out to the street.
The door to the outside world slammed defiantly. Inez winced. She hated to be strict, but they both had to mind their Ps and Qs in San Francisco.
She carried her cup to the table, sat, cut herself a slice of bread, and buttered it, thinking. If they lived elsewhere, somewhere away from the store, it would provide them with more breathing room, less "walking on eggshells." They were paying Mrs. Nolan for board, perhaps they should consider moving into her boardinghouse. Inez immediately rejected the notion.
Mrs. Nolan was in business precisely because Inez had provided a little added financial backing to her in return for a small percent of the profits. Inez preferred to keep her various business agreements at a distance. She had made an exception when taking lodgings above the store, where they had a modicum of privacy. Living cheek-by-jowl with Mrs. Nolan, who was a notorious gossip, they would not.
She shook her head. "Too close for comfort," she said aloud. "Better to deal with the church bells here."
She sifted through a small stack of paperwork she planned to take downstairs and address before the store opened at noon. Her hand hovered over a small envelope, different from the rest. It was addressed in an authoritative masculine hand to Nico's sister Carmella, a charming young woman of twenty.
Inez knew the owner of that hand — pianist Jamie Monroe. Jamie was one of the clique of young musicians, most of them new to town, who vied for Carmella's attention. When Carmella was not in the store, they sometimes approached Inez for advice about sheet music or where they might find a decent laundry that didn't over-starch collars. Of course, they also hung about waiting for Nico to appear and perhaps drop a casual comment about a certain theatre looking for a steam piano player, or a particular music hall in need of a flautist to fill in for a regular.
If they were really lucky, the elegant violinist — so sought after, so successful — might offer a word of advice or encouragement, or even a referral. She knew they looked up to him thinking, "Someday, that could be me!"
Of all those young men, Inez suspected Carmella favored Jamie above the rest. She couldn't point to anything overt between them. Mostly, it was the subtle glances they exchanged, the way Carmella's smooth olive complexion "pinked" at the mention of his name. However, Nico kept a close eye on Carmella, especially where the young men were concerned. As far as Inez knew, none of the musicians had formally declared their interest in Carmella to her brother.
The note had been slipped under the door leading to the living quarters. Jamie knew better than to slide a missive addressed to Carmella under the shop's doors, front or back, in case Nico should spot it first.
Tapping the envelope on the table, Inez debated.
It would be unwise to become a go-between, a carrier of secret notes, even inadvertently. If Nico found out, there could be repercussions that would damage their business relationship. She could not afford that. Not now. Not after all the time and effort she had devoted to the store.
Signore Nico Donato was volatile where his sister was concerned, and well connected. His possible reactions to Antonia's playground transgressions would be nothing compared to what he might do to them if he found out Inez had encouraged an "unapproved" relationship between Monroe and his sister. He could spread stories, damage their reputations, throw them out, and dissolve their business relationship. It was possible she and Antonia could manage on the investments Inez had made, in addition to her silent partnerships with some of the small women-run businesses in the city. But if those women suspected Inez of any improprieties or financial uncertainties ...
Inez shook her head.
It was not worth the risk.
She slid the sealed note to one side on the table, determined to return it to young Mr. Monroe at the first opportunity. He would have to deliver it himself.
Young love needed to prevail without her help.
After a hesitation, Inez pulled out her silver pocket watch and set it by her coffee cup. The watch ticked, invariant, reassuring. She turned it over, opened the back, and twisted it around with one finger to view the portrait of the man wedged in the circular opening.
Reverend Sands, her paramour from Leadville, stared somberly back. Justice B. Sands, the man who won her heart, held it with infinite patience and passion throughout the long, difficult year of 1880.
The last time she had seen him was a year ago, as he was departing Leadville. He had wanted to stay, to stand by her during those difficult times, but Inez pushed him away with desperate pleas for him to leave, leave, leave so she could focus on wresting a divorce from her recalcitrant husband. The truth of the matter was, faithless though Mark Stannert was — and none who knew him would deny that was the case — if Inez's affair with the reverend had been brought into court, all her carefully laid plans to contrive a way out of the marriage would have ended in disaster.
So Reverend Justice Sands had moved on, first taking a temporary post in Wyoming, and then another, shorter stay in the Dakotas, and then most recently ...
She tried to call up the cancellation stamp on his last letter, and failed.
Montana? Minnesota? Someplace far north and far away.
Inez touched the tiny image, which captured his serious mien, the hint of danger signaled by a tightness around the eyes, an alertness in the posture. She mused how the ticking watch that accompanied the photograph, marking time, was so like the man who sent it. Constant. Present. Dependable.
Never wavering. All he required was a letter now and again, a small winding, to keep the mechanism alive and moving. If she stopped the winding, stopped writing, would his letters, like the watch, slow down, and eventually just become silent? Is that what I want?
She rested her forehead on one hand, still gazing at the photo.
The truth was, she didn't know.
Not any more.
She snapped the watch shut and prepared to go downstairs and start her day.
Excerpted from "A Dying Note"
Copyright © 2018 Ann Parker.
Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A Dying Note by Ann Parker is #6 of the series Silver Rush Mysteries, but is completely stand alone. I know I want to get my hands on the rest of the series, however. This is a good read, fast paced and flowing, with folks you can be comfortable with and a story that involves you in this life and death entrigue. It takes place in San Francisco in 1881 - 1882 and you know right away that you want to stay out of Barbary Coast and Mission Bay but San Francisco is already the Queen City of the western world. As a silent protagonist, we have the attempts in this fair city to establish unions of all sorts, including one geared for musicians, the second or third attempt to unionize San Francisco's music makers and entertainers. Colorado transplant and music store manager as well as silent partner of several female owned local businesses, protagonist Inez Stannert tells this tale from her perspective but her ward, Fifth grader Antonia Gizzi, steals the show from early on. You have to love 'Tony's' spunk and lack of fear. The remaining cast are for the most part music makers - pianists and violinists and every sort of woodwinds imaginable, mostly young men trying to make a place for themselves in the tapestry that is San Francisco by the sea. The Murder of James "Jamie" Monroe on the docks of Mission Bay is a shock to all in the small enclave that is the San Francisco music industry. Inez takes the death of this much admired young pianist personally and begins digging into Union organizers, Jamie's past, and that of his contemporaries in a bid to solve this murder. And there will be, despite her many efforts, a great deal of 'help' from Antonia. And then we have Flo Sweet, the blast from the past who leaves her high class bordello in Leadville, CO in the hands of her 'girls' to add her two cents worth of advice and distraction to the murder investigation in San Francisco. She is accompanied by another Colorado protagonist, Harry Gallagher, owner of the Silver Mountain Mine in Leadville, and the father of missing Robert H. Gallagher, a young man involved in organizing a union for his father's miners, who fled Colorado to avoid an arranged marriage to the daughter of another mine owner, Phillip Poole. Rumor has it Robert wanted a chance to make music his life's work and San Francisco looked like a good fit. Poole also shows up in San Francisco after the suicide of his daughter. He is just looking for revenge. I loved this historical look at the city of San Francisco, and the people, places, clothing, businesses, transportation, education, and entertainment available at this time in the international melting pot known as the city by the sea. The Author's Note in the back - spoilers, don't read until last - gives us several web sites to mine for San Francisco information, then and now, as well as an extensive glossary of reading material that covers this era of California history. Thanks! I received a free electronic copy of this western historical novel from Netgalley, Ann Parker, and Poisoned Pen Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.