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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
A Betting Woman: A Novel of Madame Moustache by Jenni. L Walsh is a historical novel firmly rooted in reality and the persona of the mysterious Eleanor Dumont or Madame Moustache as she later became known. The story traces one Simone Jules, the daughter of a well-to-do businessman in New Orleans in the middle of the nineteenth century. When Simone’s entire family - mother, father, twin sister, and her sister’s fiancé - are all killed in a horrific theater fire that Simone should have also perished in, but was late for, she is wracked with survivor guilt. Despite the fact that it is only three weeks until her planned wedding to the dashing David Tobin, Simone tells no one but gathers what funds she can and boards a ship bound for San Francisco. After a harrowing six-month voyage around South America, Simone finds herself in the bustling gold-mining town, where she knows nobody. The only skill Simone possesses is her ability with playing cards and a game her mother taught her, Vingt-et-un (21). Setting up shop in a local hostelry, Simone begins an adventure that will ultimately take her all over the west from California, Arizona, and Utah, up to Oregon, and even into British Columbia in Canada. Through a name change, to Eleanor Dumont and then the unfortunate soubriquet of Madame Moustache, she spreads her game, her French mystique, and her unique brand of feminine wiles, all alone in a man’s world of rough and ready miners.
A Betting Woman is a special brand of historical novel in that it takes known facts about a historical figure and builds a compelling fictional tale around those facts. Author Jenni L. Walsh has done a superb job of retaining the historical integrity of Eleanor Dumont while also creating an extremely readable and exciting adventure. Reading the historical notes to the novel, it is clear Simone Jules was every bit the adventurer and strong feminine character that the author paints her to be. In a world where men outnumbered the women by as much as 1000-1, Simone managed to elicit, even from the wildest and rough miners, deep respect and a fondness for her and her novel card game. The love affair she embarked on in San Francisco gave Simone a soft edge that flowed through the entire tale and elicited deep empathy from the reader. The author has to be congratulated for achieving that. As a character, Simone was everything one could have expected from a strong female lead and so much more. She was a true champion of social justice who never let her own accumulation of wealth or indeed impending poverty stand in the way of her desire to do the right thing and help those in need, especially fellow women like her. This is an outstanding book, beautifully written, with excitement and intrigue on every page. I loved this book and can highly recommend it to lovers of history, strong women, and romance.