Of all the unconventional lives created for fictional heroines, I don’t know if anyone has conjured up anything as dangerously madcap as Dulcy Remfrey’s life in Jamie Harrison’s The Widow Nash. As the daughter of a syphilitic geologist/miner, Dulcy grew up crisscrossing the globe as her father searched for precious minerals and cures. His death in Seattle is just the start of her own deadly adventure.
The telegram Dulcy receives at the beginning of The Widow Nash contains a double dose of bad news. Not only is her father in the last stages of syphilis, but she’s been summoned to care for him by her violent, unstable ex-fiancé. This is not a gesture of goodwill on Victor’s part. He wants Dulcy in Seattle so that, first, she can figure out where the profits from his last joint venture with Dulcy’s father went (Walton doesn’t remember) and, second, to reconnect with her. It is with the greatest trepidation that Dulcy travels to Seattle. When Walton dies without divulging his secret, Dulcy works out a way to escape Victor. (Some of the events that show why Dulcy wants to get away may be triggering for survivors of sexual assault.)
Dulcy fakes her death on a train headed back to New York for Walton’s funeral and reinvents herself as Mrs. Nash, the widow of a soldier who died during the Spanish-American War, in the rough frontier town of Livingston, Montana. As the novel progresses, we see her begin to relax into her new life even though the town is full of men as violent as Victor—though she is not the target of their wrath. Of course, some of the women (Dulcy included) are just as devious as the man. I cannot overstate how criminal this book is, as it seems like most of the secondary characters are involved in some kind of racket or other. There is some joy in the middle of all the shenanigans, as Dulcy manages to find real love in spite of her dread that Victor or his henchmen might discover her new name and whereabouts.
Even though this book is full of rogues and villains, I had a great time reading it. The plot meanders to give us excerpts from Dulcy’s former life and her father’s obsessions, but the tangle provides a portrait of an intelligent, determined woman who refuses to let anyone cow her. I loved that this book played around in the darkest of ethical gray areas as it told its tale. Dulcy and her allies bend rules until they break. Others break rules just because they can. What matters in the end, is why the rules were broken.
I received a free copy of this book from Edelweiss for review consideration. It will be released 13 June 2017.