The Chili Queen

by  Sandra Dallas

Title:  The Chili Queen

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Western

Publication Date:  September 2002

Number of Pages:  292

Geographical Setting:  New Mexico

Time Period:  1880s

Series (if applicable):  N/A

Plot Summary:

The Chili Queen is a brothel in Nalgitas, New Mexico set in the 1880s.  Addie French is the owner and Madam.  She left her home as a young girl after enduring abuse and hardship at the hands of her stepfather.  She started hustling people for money with sleight of hand tricks.  She then fell into “hooking” at the Chili Queen after getting caught red-handed hustling.  After diligently saving her earnings from the hookhouse, she buys it from the owner.  Now, as the owner of The Chili Queen, she sees herself as the matriarch who takes in strays and gives them an opportunity to make a way for themselves.

On her way home to Nalgitas, a woman named Emma Roby sits next to her on the train.  Emma is in pursuit of a husband with whom she has been corresponding, and is a so-called mail-order bride.  When it turns out that the potential husband is not interested in marrying Emma after seeing her in person, she shows up at the Chili Queen looking for a place to stay and some comfort from the new friend she met.  Not only do her and Addie begin to form a relationship, Emma meets and finds friends in Welcome, the cook and maid and also, Ned Partner, an infamous outlaw and frequent Chili Queen patron.  The four of them hatch a plan to get rich quick in hopes of making each of their dreams come true.

The story is told from all four perspectives and gives the readers an opportunity to get know each character through four different eyes.  The colorful dialogue and descriptive writing really helps set the stage for the Old West.

Subject Headings:  New Mexico; Female friendship; Outlaws; Women; Boardinghouses; Domestic fiction; Historical fiction; Nineteenth Century; House of Prostitution; Bank robbers

Appeal:  Builds in intensity, easy, dramatic, atmospheric, multiple points of view, intriguing, character-centered, romp, historical details of the Old West in the 1880s, intimate, colloquial, witty, bittersweet, homespun, descriptive, award-winning

3 Terms that best describe this book:  swindling, bittersweet, Old West

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L’Amour – traveling man thru the Western countryside, personal narrative, making it on your own, social life and customs

The Sundance Kid:  the Life of Harry Alonzo Longabaugh by Donna B. Ernst – history writing, true crime, 19th century outlaws, bank robberies, the West (United States)

The Oregon Trail:  an American Saga by David Dary – history writing, hardships and triumphs of those who migrated west, geographic overview, descriptive

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty – epic story of two friends who are cattle ranchers in the 1800s, character-driven, bittersweet, descriptive, strong sense of place

Work Song by Ivan Doig – historical fiction of the American West, character-driven, bittersweet, homespun

Me and the Boys or The Glorious Adventures of Gini Kincaid:  My Perilous Times in the Territory by Ellen Recknor – historical western stories, humorous, outlaws, women adventurers, 19th century, resourcefulness in women

Name:  Jeannine Kropski


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