Love in Disguise
I have always thought of Bow Street Runners and the Pinkerton Agency to be the real start of the private investigator industry. They seemed to spring from the more scientific approach to crime solving, where scenes were examined and clues looked for. When I saw this novel was about a young woman working for the Pinkerton’s I practically flew across the room to get it!
Ellie Moore has worked for mercurial, autocratic stage star Magdalena for more years than she cares to remember. She has overseen her costumes, done her makeup, solved her problems, and guarded her secrets. Now Magdalena is to go to Europe and Ellie is ready to step into this new adventure with her. Instead, she finds herself out of a job in the middle of a bleak Chicago winter. Ellie had managed to burn more than a few bridges in the theater community when she thought she was departing and now finds herself having to look outside it for employment. A chance encounter and overheard conversation lead her to apply for a job at the Pinkerton agency. Alas, they need someone much older. Putting her years of costume and makeup training to work she applies again as Lavinia Stewart, middle aged widow. The job is hers and she is off on a terrific adventure!
Or perhaps not so terrific. When she goes to connect with the senior agent in charge she finds the young woman has quit. Ellie knows the Pinkerton’s have no one else to send and they certainly won’t send a novice on her own. Her solution? Character number two, the lovely and vivacious Jessie Monroe, Together the “two” women will be the team that the Pinkerton’s feel is needed to solve the strange case of the disappearing silver. But can a newbie agent really pull this off? Or will Ellie’s brilliant plan blow up in her face?
Steven Pierce’s dreams are about to blow up in his face. His once successful silver mine, along with several other mines in Pickford, Arizona, has been robbed to the point of near bankruptcy. Desperate, he gets the group of mine owners to agree to write to the Pinkerton’s and ask to have them send an agent. Yet the train brings only Lavinia Stewart, a nosy old widow who is interested in investing in his mine. And then later her niece arrives, who seems interested only in the raunchiest kind of wild west adventure. Will the two of them prove to be his salvation? Or the final nail in his coffin?
Part mystery, part wild west adventure, and part romance, this story was all lighthearted fun. Ellie’s job in Pickford is dangerous but she proves herself up to the challenge. Right away we know the disguise will be the biggest difficulty of all. Ellie has no problem acting the parts, but young neighbor boy Billy Taylor – who likes to pop in and out of her bushes – shows that hiding secrets in a small town is no easy trick. Then Amos Crawford, the telegram operator, falls for the elderly Lavinia. Fending him off proves to be quite the challenge. And of course, the sheriff and just about every other young buck in town falls for Jessie. Making friends of store keeps and hotel managers proves to be something of a challenge with men hanging about her apron strings, but Ellie quickly proves herself more than capable. However, is she right to be so deceptive to the kind people of Pickford? Could the the culprit really be hiding among them? And what is she to do with all the hearts she has collected – especially the one she doesn’t want to give back?
I liked Ellie as a heroine. She has a bit of a tart nature while working for Magdalena, but that was quickly sweetened by a healthy dose of comeuppance. I liked that she had spirit and didn’t just lie down and take her knocks but kept getting back up and trying. I also liked that she grew in this novel – she gained confidence as she saw her own capabilities..
I also enjoyed the town of Pickford, which is peopled with fascinating folks. From the inn keeper and his wife to the ladies of the church to the sheriff, we get to see the full image of the wild, wild West. I especially loved an opening segment dealing with the shooting of Fatima. And the author does of good job of including shades of grey – I had my guess as to who the villain was but I couldn’t figure out who was helping him. I always like it when my mystery actually contains some mystery!
My quibble with the book was that we spent so much time with Stephen interacting with Lavinia and Stephen interacting with Jessie that we had no time to really see him interact with Ellie. I would have liked to have seen more of the two of them with her just being herself. Also, Ellie considered herself completely plain but she turned her alter-ego Jessie into a lovely young woman. I couldn’t help but wonder why she didn’t apply her makeup and wardrobe skills to her real life. I hope that is her plan for the future.
The religious factor in this book is about medium. The author doesn’t have a sermon she feels she needs to pound us with, but she does interlace questions of faith within the text. Specifically she asks about dishonesty in the line of duty and coming back to your faith after falling away from it. I liked how she handled it and never felt like she crossed the line into preachy.
If you have been reading inspirationals, you know how many great books there are in the genre right now. I thought this one stood out in the crowd because of its unique story line, excellent writing, and intriguing mix of mystery, love, adventure, and humor. I would recommend it to fans of the genre.