Though Richard Hurley's career in computer-based multimedia took him to the Sierra foothills, his love of history never left. Along with with co-author TJ Meekins, whose work took her to the Tahoe National Forest in Nevada City, the two have produced a compelling historical novel and bittersweet love story that will have readers turning pages far into the night.
"Queen Of The Northern Mines: A Novel Of The Civil War In California" ($16.95 in paperback from Bear River Books, bearriverbooks.com) spans a short but eventful four years, from November 1860, centered mostly in the area of Nevada City (then called "Nevada," the "Queen" of the title). The authors interweave the stories of Virginian Will Stafford, the handsome 28-year-old attorney, with that of Chinese mine owner Ah Tie, Austrian musician Peter Kessel, and Nisenan Maidu orphan Nutim.
The book was named a finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association. The cover, "Portrait of Sophie Gray," from the artist John Everett Millais (1857), beckons the reader to settle in to a story of love found and love lost, a story of divided loyalties, both personal and political, and to a tale that mixes the absurd (think E Clampus Vitus) with the unutterably sad (war's devastation).
Will arrives in Nevada (the town) having helped dispatch a group of highway agents intent on plunder; he finds work (and friendship) with a judge, and he finds his attention drawn to the Missouri House, whose caretaker, 31-year-old widow Molly Hatfield ("richly endowed with wisdom and beauty") sparks a decided personal interest. Complicating matters, Molly's daughter Ida, 15 years old, is also smitten with the young lawyer.
People have come from all over the country (and the world) to have a go at the Northern mines. There is decided Yankee sentiment in Nevada, and Rebel sentiment in Grass Valley. When Will returns to Nevada, wounded, from fighting for the Confederacy in his home state, he must face a profound reality. If Jefferson Davis is to survive, he must have California gold. A new shipment from the mines is on its way, and Will must decide the meaning of honor, friendship and love.
Does a uniform lift him above being a mere highway agent?