Friday, August 15, 2014

The Chili Queen

The Chili Queen
Sandra Dallas
(St. Martin’s Press, 2002)
Addie French, the owner and operator of the Chili Queen brothel, is the proverbial whore with a heart of gold.  It’s her kind-hearted nature that leads her to befriend Emma Roby whom meets on the train as they both travel to Nalgitas, New Mexico.  Addie is returning home after an assignation with a wealthy client, and Emma is basically a mail order bride, having corresponded with a rancher who is supposed to meet her in Nalgitas for the purpose of matrimony.  When Emma’s suitor fails to materialize, she shows up at the Chili Queen, looking for a place to stay thinking the Chili Queen is a boarding house.  Addie doesn’t have the heart to turn her away. 

The story revolves around the group of people thrown together at the Chili Queen by life’s circumstances, but Addie and Emma each will discover appearances can be deceiving.  The mishmash of folks staying at the Chili Queen  include Emma; Addie who gives up her bedroom to Emma so Emma won’t be sleeping on the same floor as the working prostitutes; Welcome, Addie’s black cook and wash woman, who keeps everyone in line; Ned Partner, a sometimes outlaw and Addie’s sometimes lover; and the two prostitutes, Belle Bassett and Tillie Jumps.  Later in the book, Emma’s brother John Roby, arrives at the Chili Queen completing the cast of characters.   

The Chili Queen, set in 1880’s New Mexico, is one part “The Sting” and one part Spanish picaresque novel, with a little bit of the vibe from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” thrown in, but what emerges is a unique and entertaining tale from author Sandra Dallas.  The story is told from different characters’ perspectives: Addie, then Ned, followed by Emma, and finally Welcome.  Each person’s story illuminates the truth a little more. 
My Colorado-based, sister-in-law has recommended Sandra Dallas’ books for years, and I now wonder what took me so long to follow up on her recommendations.  So far I’m just reading the Sandra Dallas books I’ve found on my book shelves.  Next up is Alice’s Tulips (2000).  Dallas is a former Denver bureau chief for Business Week magazine and lives in Denver and Georgetown, Colorado.


  1. I've never heard of Sandra Dallas - I don't think her books appear over here. I like books where you see things from each character's point of view.

    1. Jenny, the next Dallas book I'm reading is an epistolary novel, a style I've often enjoyed. I see where you've been on a recent adventure--looked interesting.