A Dangerous Business by Jane Smiley is a riotous adventure through Gold Rush-era California. Eliza Ripple is a young woman whose much older husband drags her off from Kalamazoo to California, whose treatment of her is so awful that she’s relieved when he’s killed in a bar fight. Now a widow stranded in Monterey, Eliza takes up work in a brothel run by the unexpectedly kind Mrs. Parks. Here, she comes across a wide array of colorful, eccentric characters, including fellow prostitute Jean McPherson, who dresses as a man and works at another brothel run, quite unusually, for the women in the town. When young women from both brothels start to disappear, Eliza and Jean team up to solve the mystery in the style of Edgar Allan Poe’s groundbreaking detective, Auguste Dupin, piecing together clues scavenged from their clients to try and pin down a potential murderer. A Dangerous Business is a wild ride with memorable characters.