Elevate Difference

Woman of Ill Fame

Nora Simms is a prostitute who comes to San Francisco in 1848, during the Gold Rush. She starts as a "crib girl," working in a row house with several other prostitutes. One of Nora's aims is to work in a parlor house. Parlor houses are more upscale bordellos, frequented by men with more education than the miners Nora serviced. To achieve this goal, Nora begins speaking with a fake French accent. She takes lessons from another crib girl and meets a professor who sweeps her off her feet. Nora also wins the affections of Abe, a gentle, mildly retarded man. After several prostitutes are murdered, Nora begins to fear that the killer may be after her. Her quest to find the killer, and to keep herself and her fellow hookers safe, provides much of the action in the latter part of the book.

I found this book interesting because it mixes genres so well. It is historical fiction, painstakingly researched by Mailman. It is also a sort of mystery book, and there are elements of romance. The book is told from Nora's point of view and explores some of the problems facing American women during the nineteenth century. I found it hard to read at times because the dialogue is all in the colloquial language of the era where it is set. This did not prevent me from following the story, however. I found the story compelling enough to go on reading. Nora is torn between her life of prostitution and her desire to be wealthy. Mailman does a good job of chronicling that conflict. This is Mailman's first novel. She has another forthcoming this year, and I look forward to following her work.

Written by: Steve Watson, February 10th 2007

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