Sandra Dallas, who has made a name for herself with accurate historical fiction, has done it again in “Fallen Women.” This time she's crafted a murder mystery that simultaneously showcases her fine ability to portray human relationships.
The vicious stabbing death of a prostitute in 1885 Denver captivates the public's attention, largely because victim Lillie was the niece of Judge Stanton. Lillie had been a darling of Denver high society before taking up employment at the House of Dreams on Holladay Street in the Tenderloin district.
Lillie's older sister, Beret, lives in New York City, where she runs a mission. Despite the protests of the Stantons that Lillie was lost to all of them and now is dead and buried, Beret arrives in Denver to find out who killed her sister.
Beret is intent upon assisting Detective Sgt. Michael McCauley with the investigation. He believes she will just interfere, but when a second blonde prostitute is stabbed to death, McCauley knows he needs Beret's help to find this killer.
Dallas' careful research allows her to paint a word picture of what life was like for the ladies of Holladay Street — these fictional women and the real ones of eld. She offers a gritty, realistic portrait of them. Through Beret, Dallas offers a sympathetic view of these “soiled doves.”
Juxtaposed to Beret's purpose of finding Lillie's killer are her uncle's ongoing pursuit of a Senate seat, Beret's guilt about how she may have contributed to her estranged sister's troubled life and a blossoming friendship with the detective.
Dallas delivers a fast-paced tale rich with characters, including the coroner, Dr. Death; the Stantons' odd but loyal groomsman, Jonas Silk; their all-knowing butler, William; and more.