“Good use of known characters woven around a fictional series of murders linked to the Irish Troubles and the Indian Mutiny in a murder mystery. I enjoyed it, and the insight into the worlds of Queen Victoria and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.”
Love this international review from Ian in the UK!
“A great light and fun read that will take you to the old West’s most noteworthy wild west show and meet its most famous historical figures. A whodunit mystery, Girl with a Gun doubles as historical fiction – the word fiction is emphasized. Not everything that happens in Kari Bovée’s debut novel actually happened as Annie Mosey from Ohio transitioned to “Little Miss Sure Shot” in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Readers looking for a factual account should peruse the non-fiction and biography shelves.
For those who simply want to be entertained, and get a sense of life in 1885, then stand by for a good time as bodies keep dropping, a horse gets poisoned, and attempts are made on Annie Oakley’s life. Of the three major themes in mysteries, the reader will find them all in Girl with a Gun. There are multiple instances of characters seeking revenge; characters doing bad things while they attempt to obtain something that does not belong to them; and characters wanting to stop something that is happening that they do not like. Enough intertwining of facts with fiction, of plot weaving, and characters not being all they appear to make even Agatha Christi blush.
Author Kari Bovée manages to introduce some very important, and unexpected, serious themes into Girl with a Gun. We are faced right away with the choices available to women in 1885 – marriage, the whorehouse, or an uncertain life alone. Indeed, woman’s place in society is a major refrain as Annie doesn’t even get to choose her new name when she enters the show. Abuse of women and strong prejudices against Indians illuminate the dark underside of 1885 American society.
The strong bond between horse and human is today less understood by modern society but figures as a strong motivator in the plot. And like today, everyone has secrets – some of those matter to the outcome of the mystery and others are complications and red herrings tantalizingly introduced throughout the pages in excellent fashion.
Girl with a Gun will give the reader an inside view of the historic wild west show. We see jealousies, manipulation, rivalries, and choices to be made when the main attractions in the show come to understand they are just employees under the thumb of the owner. The reader learns quite a bit about horsemanship, shooting, showmanship, costumes and dress. Regardless of how the author adjusts the real world to tell her story, the life and times of Annie Oakley are vividly brought to life in a way that cannot be replicated by histories. Annie is depicted as a woman ahead of her times – brave, adventurous, willing to shoulder responsibility, and full of life. She is loyal to a fault. Readers will have no problem identifying with Annie and recognizing that her decisions, like their own, are sometimes made for all the wrong reasons. Supporting characters in the story are larger than life as are the real-world figures they represent.
Girl with a Gun is a major prize winner that bears your investigation. The book is very readable with a nice pace and short chapters. The major events of the story take place during April 1885 with the denouement occurring a few months later. There are some great lines worth remembering such as: “And as far as being friendly goes, I’m friendly, all right – just ask the boys.” Read the book. You will not be disappointed. Just ask the boys.”
Halloween is again upon us and so closes my series of ghost stories for October. I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the ghosts of Hawaii and New Mexico. I have saved my favorite ghost for last.
Julia Schuster Staab was the wife of Abraham Staab, a Jewish German immigrant, who came to New Mexico in 1846 to establish himself as a merchant on the Santa Fe Trail. After Abraham became a wealthy businessman, he went home to Germany to find a bride. He found Julia Schuster, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from his home village of Ludge. Having come from the same small village, it is thought that perhaps Abraham knew Julia’s family before he left to find his riches in America. With great expectations he brought Julia back to his new home in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1865.
Completely out of place in the village of Santa Fe with its mud houses and arid landscape, Julia had been accustomed to more a more elegant lifestyle and grand home. Eager to make his wife happy, Abraham built Julia a beautiful white mansion. The Staab House, a Victorian masterpiece with a large ballroom on the third floor, suited Julia’s excellent taste.
The couple had seven children, but at the death of their eighth, Julia changed both physically and mentally. She became sad, depressed, chronically ill and inconsolable. It is said her hair turned grey overnight. Her grief took a toll on the couple and they slowly grew apart. This did not help Julia’s situation and some say she went insane. She spent most of her latter days locked in her bedroom until she died in 1896, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Rumors of Abraham’s extramarital affairs and Julia’s possible murder or suicide were never proven.
In the 1920’s a fire burned through the Staab house, destroying the third floor. When the house was rebuilt as a stuccoed, Pueblo-style hotel, the builders simply built around the remains of the mansion and then added charming casitas across the 7-acre plot as additional guest rooms.
Although she died in 1896, Julia’s ghostly presence had not been reported until the 1970’s. A janitor at the hotel stated that he saw a translucent dark eyed woman in a white Victorian gown, with white, upswept hair standing near the fireplace. From that moment on, more sightings of the same woman were reported. Staff and guests alike saw her wandering the hallways, lounging in a chair in the downstairs sitting room or standing near the fireplace.
The excerpt below is from the book American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus, great-great granddaughter to Julia Staab. The book is an enthralling read and I highly recommend it.
“Strange things began to happen in the hotel. Gas fireplaces turned off and on repeatedly, though nobody was flipping the switch. Chandeliers swayed and revolved. Vases of flowers moved to new locations. Glasses tumbled from shelves in the bar. A waitress, not known for her clumsiness, began droppings trays and explained that she felt as if someone were pushing them from underneath. Guests heard dancing footsteps on the third story, where the ballroom had once been—though the third floor had burned years earlier. A woman’s voice, distant and foreign sounding, called the switchboard over and over. ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’”
One guest decided to test Julia when he and his wife requested to stay in Julia’s room. Hearing that Julia’s ghost was very particular about things in her room, he purposely left the top dresser drawer opened. Later that night, he and his wife were awakened by the sound of the drawer being slowly closed.
I became fascinated with the story of the La Posada Hotel after our daughter decided she wanted to be married there last year. She, her fiancé and I took the hour long drive to Santa Fe to stay the night in the hotel and speak to the event planner who worked there. As luck would have it, the engaged couple was put up in one of the casitas, and I was assigned to a room on the second floor of the mansion—the room right next door to Julia’s. I had heard some stories that the hotel was haunted, but at the time, I didn’t know Julia’s story. Which is probably a good thing. Fortunately, the only thing that kept me up that night was the rowdy party in the bar at the foot of the stairs to my room.
Months later, after our daughter and her new husband’s stunning wedding, I wandered into the lobby and saw Nordhaus’ book sitting on the concierge’s desk. When I asked the woman sitting at the desk about the book, she proceeded to give me the highlights and told me some of the fascinating stories other staff and guests had told about Julia’s ghost. I asked if she had any similar experiences and she said she hadn’t, although she wanted to. After her last chemo treatment, she and her daughter decided to celebrate with a weekend stay at the hotel. They requested Julia’s room in hopes they would get a visit from the familiar “gentle ghost” and sat up all night waiting for her. In the wee hours of the morning they fell asleep and slept undisturbed. The concierge believed that Julia was too shy to make an appearance when someone was expecting her. She said she’d rent the room again sometime.
That concierge is braver than I am. Now that I know the story, I’m not sure I’d request to stay in the main house again. In fact, I would definitely request one of the casitas.
If you ever get to New Mexico, a stay at the La Posada Hotel is a must. Even if you don’t get Julia’s room.