The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas
Reasons for reading: Sounded good and won the Spur Award; Western for the Genre Challenge and Profession title for the What's in a Name? Challenge
Description: "Life may have been hard on Addie French, but when she meets friendless Emma Roby on a train, all her protective instincts emerge. Emma's brother is seeing her off to Nalgitas to marry a man she has never met. And Emma seems like a lost soul to Addie-someone who needs Addie's savvy and wary eye. It isn't often that Addie is drawn to anyone as a friend, but Emma seems different somehow. When Emma's prospective fails to show up at the train depot, Addie breaks all her principles to shelter the girl at her brothel, The Chili Queen. But once Emma enters Addie's life, the secrets that unfold and schemes that are hatched cause both women to question everything they thought they knew."
First line: "As the train pulled into the shabby station at Palestine, Kansas, the pinch-faced farmers and their wives in their rusty black-wool best lined up along the tracks like the teeth of a rake."
My thoughts: I don't think I'd ever read a Western before, so this was a new experience. I thought it was really cool to read a Western written by a woman - I always associate them with old guys like Louis L'Amour and Zane Grey.
The book is told in four parts, one for each main character - Addie French, madam of The Chili Queen; Ned Partner, bank robber; Emma Roby, a mail-order bride; and Welcome, a former slave turned cook at the whorehouse. It's the 1880's and most of the action takes place in New Mexico. I liked this device - it was an interesting way to reveal more information about the characters and what had really happened. Because things aren't always as they seem in this story, which makes for a few twists.
The tone of the story is a bit confusing - it's mostly quite light ("zesty" as one reviewer described it) but it also contains one of the most horrible descriptions of rape and murder I've ever read, as well as a few other grisly scenes. While they helped to shed light on the characters' past lives, it was a bit jarring to come upon these terrible things in what seemed like it was going to be rather a bank-robbing romp.
The verdict: Despite the tone issue, I think I'd read another book by Sandra Dallas (isn't that the perfect Western-author name?). Yee-haw!