A Dangerous Business: A novel (Hardcover)

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December 2022 Indie Next List

“An incredibly thought-provoking new novel from Jane Smiley. Her characters are so well drawn out that I felt like I was living the narrative alongside them. The writing is evocative and makes the pages fly. I can't wait to sell this!”
— Brooke Beehler, Books Revisited, St. Cloud, MN


From the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling author of A Thousand Acres: a mystery set in 1850s Gold Rush California, as two young prostitutes—best friends Eliza and Jean—follow a trail of missing girls.

Monterey, 1851. Ever since her husband was killed in a bar fight, Eliza Ripple has been working in a brothel. It seems like a better life, at least at first. The madam, Mrs. Parks, is kind, the men are (relatively) well behaved, and Eliza has attained what few women have: financial security. But when the dead bodies of young women start appearing outside of town, a darkness descends that she can't resist confronting. Side by side with her friend Jean, and inspired by her reading, especially by Edgar Allan Poe’s detective Dupin, Eliza pieces together an array of clues to try to catch the killer, all the while juggling clients who begin to seem more and more suspicious.

Eliza and Jean are determined not just to survive, but to find their way in a lawless town on the fringes of the Wild West—a bewitching combination of beauty and danger—as what will become the Civil War looms on the horizon. As Mrs. Parks says, "Everyone knows that this is a dangerous business, but between you and me, being a woman is a dangerous business, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise ..."

About the Author

JANE SMILEY is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and the Last Hundred Years Trilogy: Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age. She is the author as well of several works of nonfiction and books for young adults. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she has also received the PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. She lives in Northern California.

Praise For…

“Pulitzer-winning Smiley’s evocative sense of place and nuanced exploration of women’s roles in nineteenth-century American life nicely complement the portrait of Eliza and her determined effort to forge her own path . . . Highly recommended.”
—Christine Tran, Booklist (starred)

“A remarkable story of the California gold rush and a pair of sex worker sleuths . . . The vivid historical details and vibrant characters bring Smiley’s setting to glorious life. This seductive entertainment is not to be missed.”
Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed)
“Jane Smiley has a book coming out later this year that is superb, now you know.”
—Rumaan Alam, via Twitter

“The forthcoming Jane Smiley novel, A Dangerous Business, is so outstanding. Her sentences are sublime.”
—Roxane Gay, via Twitter
Product Details
ISBN: 9780525520337
ISBN-10: 0525520333
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: December 6th, 2022
Pages: 224
Language: English