New York Times Best Selling Author

Fallen Women

…memorably evokes the raw, rough-edged Denver of 1885 in this blend of suspenseful mystery and nuanced romance.
-Publishers Weekly

It’s the spring of 1885 when wealthy New York socialite Beret Osmundsen first sets foot in a Denver police station. Just days before, she received the terrible news of the death of her estranged younger sister Lillie. The telegram from her aunt and uncle was brief, stating only that Lillie had passed away suddenly and there was no need for Beret to make the long trip west. Soon, a sordid story is revealed when Beret comes across a scandal sheet with the details of a brutal murder of a prostitute named “Lillie Brown” in the brothel where she lived Upon a closer read, Beret becomes convinced that “Lillie Brown” was in fact her sister, and her murderer has not been caught. Her investigation takes her from the dangerous, seedy underworld of Denver’s tenderloin to the highest levels of Denver society. Along the way Beret learns the depths of Lillie’s depravity and must reconcile these with her memories of the innocent young girl of their youth, all while never losing sight of finding the murderer. With the help of detective Mick McCauley, Beret ultimately unearths the truth about the sister she couldn’t save and exposes the darkest side of Gilded Age ambition in the city in the process.

Author’s Note

When I was first married, my husband and I lived in Breckenridge, Colorado, then an old mining town. Our next door neighbor was a wiry, white-haired woman who went fishing at dawn and left part of her catch on our doorstep for breakfast. Later, I learned this thoughtful neighbor had been a “working girl” at Mae Nicholson’s Blue Goose. Mae spent summers in Breckenridge and regaled us with stories of an earlier Breckenridge. The two women made me realize that prostitutes were real people, not so much different from their neighbors who had not gone “across the river,” as it was said in Breckenridge.

As I researched western history for a series of nonfiction books I wrote before I turned to novels, I discovered that Victorian prostitution was much different from the naughty and salacious way it had been portrayed by aging male writers. Yes, there were the glittering inmates of high-class brothels, but there were also small town hookers like our neighbor and Mae, who were accepted as part of the community fabric. Then there were the disease-ridden hopheads who worked out of cribs at the end of the line. They were pathetic creatures who deserved pity, not scorn.

In years gone by, women turned to prostitution for a variety of reasons, mostly economic. They had few marketable skills, and prostitution was more desirable than domestic work. But what about the women with alternatives who actually chose prostitution? That intrigued me, and so I created Lillie, a wealthy young woman who eschews a string of suitors and chooses to “turn out.”

Despite what I’ve written above, Fallen Women is not really a story about prostitution. Illicit sex is only the backdrop, just as quilting is a backdrop in some of my other books. The story is centered on the relationship between two sisters. When Lillie is murdered, Beret, the older, duty-bound sister is motivated by love and guilt to find her sister’s killer. But more than that, she wants to understand why Lillie betrayed her. Why did Lillie break Beret’s heart and then disappear into Denver’s underworld? And of course, Fallen Women has a hint of romance. What fun would it be to write a book without it?

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