4 Colorado-connected books to cozy up with this month


“Gilded Mountain” by Kate Manning (Scribner)

Gilded Mountain (Scribner)
Gilded Mountain (Scribner)

Moonstone is a turn-of-the-century marble mining town, a little like our Marble. The mine is owned by an unscrupulous company whose executives want to make maximum profits from the quarry while paying minimum wages. They care little about hazardous conditions or the poverty of their employees, and anyone who talks about unionization faces being fired or worse.

Sylvie Pelletier’s father works in the mine, and her people are as impoverished as the other families, but she has ambition. She finagles a job at the female-owned newspaper, then gets hired for the summer by Inge, the wife of Duke Padgett, the mine owner.

Inge takes Sylvie in hand and teaches her the refinements of high society — which fork to use, the taste of champagne, and how to flirt. She’s thrilled when she catches the eye of Jace, Duke’s son. She has had a crush on him since she met him in the quarry when she was taking dinner to her father. Jace is a wastrel, but he hates the inequality between mine owner and worker and detests his father’s iron-handed way of dealing with employees.

At the same time, Sylvie is being courted by a union man trying to organize the workers.

“Gilded Mountain” is based loosely on Colorado history with real-life figures, including King Leopold of Belgium and Mother Jones, who was active in the coal strikes in Trinidad.

The book is an old-fashioned novel of big mountains and bigger-than-life robber barons, updated to be politically correct. Sylvie resents the lack of opportunities for women, for instance. The newspaper is owned by a woman, a rare occurrence in the old West. But the lives of immigrant workers are portrayed with unsettling realism.

“Ballistics at the Ballet” by B.J. Bowen (Camel Press)

Ballistics at the Ballet (Camel Press)
Ballistics at the Ballet (Camel Press)

Bullets and ballet may not be an obvious mix, but Colorado Springs writer B.J. Bowen ties them together in her second cozy mystery.

Emily Wilson, a flutist in the Monroe symphony, stumbles across the dying orchestra conductor, Felix Underhayes, just in time to hear his final words: “Tell her she’s the only one … .”

When the police arrive, Emily puzzles over the dying declaration. Felix was a player, and the words may have be directed at someone other than his wife. Felix was also despised by most members of the orchestra, including Charlie, Emily’s nephew, who was heard threatening Felix. The police quickly arrest Charlie, but Emily knows he’s innocent. With the help of her sister and mother, she sets out to find the real killer. She settles on Celee, who was having an affair with Felix, but then Celee, like Felix, is shot to death.

This all takes place just before Christmas when the symphony is in the midst of performing “The Nutcracker.” The author herself is a professional oboist, and the book is filled with backstage glimpses into the world of performing.

It’s a romp of a mystery, as the investigating detective and the sister fall for each other, Emily’s roommate and the symphony pr guy get it on, and Emily herself falls in love with the attorney. But as the mother, famous for her malapropisms, notes, “If it ends well, all’s well.”

“All the Blood We Share” by Camilla Bruce (Berkley)

All the Blood We Share (Berkley)
All the Blood We Share (Berkley)

It’s not an easy thing to write a novel about the Bloody Benders. In the 1870s, the vicious family ran an inn on the overland trail in Kansas and murdered many of their guests. Little is known about the Benders; even their fate is uncertain. So that left an almost blank slate for novelist Camilla Bruce.

Under Bruce’s pen, the family leaves Pennsylvania after daughter Kate murders a man she’d been sleeping with. They wind up in Colorado, where Kate becomes a spiritual medium, dazzling men with her beauty and her cunning. The family ekes out a living until the unhinged son, John, hits a guest with a hammer. Kate finishes him off with a knife, unleashing a blood lust that leads to a score of murders. The memory of “the gaping flesh of a ruined throat,” makes her “unable to exorcise the devil,” Kate says. The family hopes to rob the victims to get enough money to move farther west to farm but, alas, some of the victims are penniless.

Pa Bender is senile, chasing ghosts with his gun, while Ma sits and knits and wails about the family’s sinfulness. Still, her hands are none too clean. She is responsible for the worst murder of them all.

“All the Blood We Share” is too well written to be ghoulish, but you search in vain for one character who isn’t either demented or deluded.

“Adobe Close Up” by Marcia Johnson, photographs by Michael Gamer (Sunstone Press)

“Building in adobe is like a disease,” Georgia O’Keeffe said. “Once you start using it you can’t really ever stop.”

“Adobe Close Up” shows why. These black-and-white pictures, taken 35 years ago, illustrate the appeal of of earth-made homes: the smooth lines of mud walls and classic look of hand-made doors and viga-and-latilla ceilings.

The book focuses on New Mexico and Southern Colorado; former Sen. Ken Salazar’s home in the San Luis Valley is featured.

Adobe villages were already old when the first conquistadores discovered them, writes Colorado author Marcia Johnson. In fact, straw used in making adobe bricks glistened so brightly in the sun that the legend of the seven golden cities of Cibola was born. Anglo settlers utilized adobe but brought outside touches to their buildings with porches and pointed roofs and gable windows, creating New Mexico’s Territorial Style.

Michael Gamer’s photographs illustrate why adobe buildings have attracted artists to New Mexico for well over 100 years.


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