Reviews for The Beaten Territory
Tattered Cover Review
Darkly engaging historical fiction set in the underworld of lower downtown Denver. The Author intertwines the stories of 3 women as they navigate the grit of addiction, prostitution, murder and corruption as their city boomed. –Daron
|In 1878, Annie Ryan, a madam in her 40s, arrives in Denver planning to open a brothel; but since the city runs on kickbacks and payoffs, and she doesn’t have much money, Annie and her daughters do the entertaining. Then Lydia, a society woman, invests in Annie’s business, and Annie’s niece, Pearl, comes to work. At first this feels like success to Annie, but it brings her nothing but trouble. Lydia doses herself with laudanum while her husband frequents the brothel. And 16-year-old Pearl, who is drinking on the job, is involved with a very violent man. Fear and shame lead to deception Annie just turns her head and greed leads to murder. Although the story moves briskly toward a surprising denouement, the crude and explicit sex and the cast of unlikable characters will not suit some readers. Allusions to Annie’s earlier life suggest the manipulating madam is not irredeemable, however, and a Ryan-family sequel is in the offing.–Greene, Jeanne Copyright 2017 Booklist
Westword Write-up and Review
Set in Denver during an era when the downtown district was lousy with gaming parlors, saloons, brothels and various other dens of iniquity, The Beaten Territory drips with the intrigue of what was still considered the Wild West, back in the 1890s. The latest novel by local author Randi Samuelson-Brown tells the story of Annie Ryan, a Market Street madam who gets swept up in Denver’s seedy underworld when she meets laudanum-addled socialite Lydia Chambers. Soon enough, a shocking murder shakes this world of booze-besotted good-time girls to its very core. Join Samuelson-Brown at the historic LoDo outpost of Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore franchise for a reading and discussion of The Beaten Territory ($25.95, Five Star Publishing), a true page-turner that thrillingly flouts the sometimes stodgy conventions of historical fiction. Visit the Tattered Cover’s events calendar to learn more.
Historical Novel Society Review
Denver was a booming city in the 1890s, and along with the growth of the railroad and industry came brothels, gambling dens, and all manner of vice and corruption. The brothels thriving on Market Street were left alone to flourish in squalor and seediness. The lowest of the prostitutes lived and worked in cribs, rows of makeshift hovels. The Ryan family has a tradition of working businesses on the wrong side of the law. Annie Ryan has been working as a prostitute and now aspires to open her own brothel. She meets Lydia Chambers, a wealthy society woman with a laudanum addiction and a miserable marriage. Lydia has recently purchased a building on Market Street without her husband’s knowledge. She rents the building to Annie in a secret arrangement to start her brothel. Annie hires her 16-year-old niece and her daughters, already seasoned prostitutes.
This book highlights the oppression of women during that time and the limits governing their lives. They didn’t have career choices or protection under the law. It would do no good for Lydia to go to the police when her husband beat her. The police didn’t bother with a prostitute being beaten or murdered; it didn’t even merit a mention in the newspapers. I became immersed in this harsh world of prostitution, underhanded booze dealings, bribery, fraud, corrupt cops and politicians, drug addiction, and murder. There were no honest people or upstanding citizens to be found. The author was so good at pulling me into the story that I could set aside my feelings of revulsion for these characters. It is a gritty and unsentimental book with a gripping plot. Read it to get a sense of the reality faced by many women in the Old West.
Sex and Drugs in the 1890s
If you think weed being legal is crazy, you should have seen Denver’s drug scene at the turn of the last century. At this lecture, local author Randi Samuelson-Brown—fresh off the release of her debut historical novel—will give a rundown of the brothels, drug dens, and bootleg joints that ran the Front Range during the Wild West days. Intrigued by what you hear? Stick around afterwards to buy a copy of Samuelson-Brown’s book, The Beaten Territory.
Colorado Book Review
(4.5 / 5)
The Beaten Territory is a fast-paced, deeply textured tale of three women whose lives interconnect in late nineteenth century Denver. Annie, enmeshed in the prostitution trade, yearns to become an independent businesswoman, with her own saloon and brothel. Lydia, owner of the building Annie rents, is drawn to Hop Alley and the opium dents to supplement her laudanum additions while her naiveté exposes her to risks she doesn’t suspect. Annie’s niece, Pearl, is nurtured into the trade by her aunt and is soon trapped into a life of prostitution. Attractive and resentful, she plays the game, waiting for her chance to get out. The lives of the three women intertwine, but each exists in her own world, none knowing enough about the others’ affairs to sense how much of a spider-web their lives eventually become. When each attempts to satisfy her own goal, all are put in danger.
Samuelson-Brown’s use of vivid, metaphorical language brings historic Denver and surrounding towns to life. Many passages are almost lyrical in tone without subtracting from the story itself—a delicate balance. Her secondary characters convey the shadiness of the red-light districts of the past and add depth to the story. Setting and flavor are admirably accomplished.
But it is the masterful weaving of individual stories that makes this novel stand out as unique. At the onset, each character has her own separate story. Annie, Lydia, and Pearl each have dreams as well as flaws that hold them back. Samuelson-Brown adeptly establishes each of the three as sympathetic while never losing track of the rough edges that make them who they are. As she winds the three plotlines together into a complicated tapestry, she reminds the reader of the tragic influences of the underworld. The story is a captivating yet realistic glimpse into prostitution in the Old West and how trapped such women became, despite their strengths.