cover image Lucky Red

Lucky Red

Claudia Cravens. Dial, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-49824-8

Cravens debuts with an exceptional historical tale of sex work and queer desire on the American frontier. Bridget Shaughnessy, 16, lands alone in Dodge City, Kans., in 1877. She’s recently orphaned, her alcoholic and shiftless father having died from a rattlesnake bite on their way from Arkansas. Her innocent look and flaming red hair catch the attention of Lila and Kate, madams of a refined brothel called the Buffalo Queen. With no other prospects, Bridget becomes a “sporting woman” and befriends bookish and sarcastic colleague Constance. The return of Sallie, a self-assured former employee of Lila’s, sparks confusing desires in Bridget, but after Bridget impulsively intervenes to protect Sallie from a violent customer, Sallie is forced out. Heartbroken, Bridget numbly continues her work and strings along Jim Bonnie, a sheriff’s deputy who keeps the Buffalo Queen safe from moralizers and rougher patrons. After Bridget meets Spartan Lee, a gender-bending outlaw chaser, she discovers a new romance, one strong enough for her to rebuff Jim’s marriage proposal. Spartan, meanwhile, is working a con that sweeps up Bridget and the rest of the house. Cravens peppers the thrilling plot with delicious language (Bridget’s clients are “a series of hats and mustaches”; Jim’s marriage offer feels “wedged in [her] chest, like a piece of furniture that can’t be got through a doorway”), and her sensitive portrayal of Bridget’s uncertainty over her sexuality resonates. This is a knockout. Agent: Alexa Stark, Writers House. (June)