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The Redemption of Mattie Silks
Old West madam, Mattie Silks runs the finest parlor house in a town filled with corrupt police, righteous politicians, morality committees, and a crime boss named Soapy Smith. Mattie’s lover witnesses Soapy shoot a man and escape justice. When a young girl is murdered, Mattie’s convinced Soapy did it. This time she is determined to see justice done. Based on a true story.
Burns (author of The Mrs. Tabor) journeys into the late 1800s in this rousing story based on Mattie Silks, a real madam in the American West. Highlighting the realities of life for women on the dark side of the law during the iconic Wild West, Burns follows infamous businesswoman Mattie as she runs the fanciest brothel in Denver, Colo., earning a living for herself and her lazy husband—a rare arrangement in a time when women weren’t even allowed to open their own bank accounts. But when gold is discovered in Canada’s Yukon territory, Mattie seizes on the opportunity, packing up her business and heading north.

The 1800s was a ruthless time, and Burns powerfully showcases that harsh reality through Mattie’s story and much arresting period detail. Denver is a town rife with criminals, politicians, and morality committees, and Mattie often finds herself caught in between the three. She uses her business sense and street smarts to protect herself, and her girls, from the more hardened criminals—like Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, the unrelenting head of a Denver crime syndicate. When Mattie’s husband Cortez gets caught up in one of Soapy’s crime scenes, and the morality committees amp up their campaigns against the town’s vices, things quickly heat up, making the journey to the Yukon all the more attractive when it comes Mattie’s way.

This action-packed tale is rare in its spotlight on a successful businesswoman in what was once primarily considered a “man’s world.” Mattie is an admirable hero, and watching her carve out a life for herself in the most rugged terrain is a thrill of a ride—as are the intimate glimpses readers will gain of the harrowing experiences for most women of the West. This is a vivid story of survival—a hard-won skill that serves Mattie well across multiple settings and exciting challenges—that fully captures the grim life of the Wild West.

Takeaway: A shrewd businesswoman survives against all odds in the Wild West.

Comparable Titles: Jeannette Walls’s Half Broke Horses, Larry Feign’s The Flower Boat Girl.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A