Review: “All That Is Secret” by Patricia Raybon, “The Tenderest of Strings” by Steven Schwartz

“All That Is Secret,” by Patricia Raybon (Tyndale House)

When her father is murdered, Annalee Spain sets out for Denver at the behest of Jack, a young minister, to find the killer. It’s the 1920s, and Denver, ruled by the KKK, is a dangerous place for a Black woman. Her only qualifications as a detective are her love of Sherlock Holmes books and her faith in God.

“All That Is Secret” is the first in a planned series of faith-based Annalee Spain mysteries by Denver author Patricia Raybon, who was inducted into the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame this fall.

Annalee, with the support of Jack and Eddie, an orphan boy, thwarts an attempt on her life even before she reaches Denver. So once in the city, she goes undercover in plain sight, as a domestic in the district attorney’s home. Who pays attention to a Black maid?

Turns out the DA’s house is filled with suspects, both Black and white. Just as a coterie of wealthy whites controls the city, so does a devious Black parishioner of Jack’s church exercise power over the whites.

Raybon’s setting is a look backward at Denver in the 1920s. She writes of the fear of Black residents at a time when Denver politicians were KKK members. She also tells of life in Five Points. Annalee and Jack go dancing at the Rossonian, which she explains in an author’s note was really named the Baxter Hotel back then.

Annalee is a woman of her time — smart and aggressive but well aware of discrimination against Black people and women. She’s also fun, as she stumbles in her goal to become a detective. As a Black woman of faith, she is a welcome addition to a genre that is dominated by white women and hard-boiled men.

RELATED: The KKK ruled Denver a century ago. Here’s how the hate group’s legacy is still being felt in 2021.

“Lamentatons,” by Carol Kammen (Bison Books)

In 1842, a group of families sets out for Oregon. The only written record of the trip was found in brief notations about weather and mileage kept by one traveler. Using a variety of forms — letters, conversations, written accounts, musings — historian Carol Kammen fills in the blanks as she fictionalizes the story.

Foremost among these women is Caroline Tompkins, who makes the trek with her husband and grown children. Her husband intends to establish a newspaper in Oregon. Caroline, like the other women, is skeptical that Oregon will bring a better life, but she had no say in the matter. Husbands make the decisions.

In fact, the women are nonentities on the trek. They cannot vote on their leader or participate in decisions for the company. They are resentful but accepting. There is little for them outside of marriage. The Widow Abel is a young woman with a baby, whose husband committed suicide. She is courted by two men in the company and will probably have to marry one of them.

This is a book about women — “women walking west,” as the subtitle says. Unlike the many diaries written by real women, it is a fictionalized compilation of thoughts and views and fears.  “Lamentations” is a superb look at westering women nearly 200 years ago as they accompanied their families into the unknown.

“The Tenderest of Strings,” by Steven Schwartz (Regal House)

Life in a small town isn’t what Ardith Rosenfeld thought it would be when she and her family left Chicago for fictional Welton, on the Colorado plains. She’s left to fend for herself in the crumbling home that her husband, Reuben, insisted on buying, while he runs the town newspaper. What’s more, she has to cope with her angry teenage son, a loner who hates his new life.

Little surprise that Ardith has an affair, with the beloved local doctor. It throws the family and the town into a tailspin when it ends suddenly.

Fort Collins author Steven Schwartz’s tightly written story tells of a family in crisis. The affair and its aftermath ring true as each member of the family tries to cope with not just the consequences of infidelity but with their own personal challenges as well. In addition to accepting his wife’s betrayal, Reuben, who’d worked for the Chicago Tribune, frets over the insignificance of small-town journalism. And your heart goes out to Harry, the insolent son, when he finally finds a best friend only to have the boy desert him for jock buddies who accuse Harry of being gay.

Schwartz brings an understanding of ordinary people to this engrossing story of a fractured family that strives to heal itself through love and understanding.

“The Lady and the Mountain Man,” by Chris Enss (Two Dot)

Isabella Bird is one of Colorado’s favorite historical figures. The fearless Englishwoman rode all over Colorado’s mountains in 1873, in bad weather and by herself. “The Lady and the Mountain Man” is a definitive treatment of Bird’s life.

Bird was an invalid, and doctors recommended sea voyages to improve her health. She was intrigued with the American West, and once healed, she came here by herself to explore the mountains. She settled in Estes Park where she met infamous mountain man Jim Nugent. Mauled by a grizzly, Mountain Jim was scarred and missing an eye, but Bird found him handsome. He had a reputation for violence, particularly when he was drunk, and Bird was warned against him.

The two fell in love, but a future together was not to be.

In this detailed account of the star-crossed lovers, the author — who is known for her books on Western women — plumbs both Colorado and British resources. In Enss’ hands, Bird is not a female oddity, but a woman of strength, courage and loyalty.

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