Railroad schemes opens as fifteen year old Lily Viner’s abusive father Jewell is in cahoots with King Callahan and his gang to rob the railroad money coming into Virginia City via stagecoach, and they use Lily as a red herring to bait the trap. Things go terribly wrong, Lily’s father is killed and King Callahan, the robber with a heart of gold, takes Lily along with him as they escape from the one handed Railroad detective Brand, who is bent upon capturing King and hanging him as a criminal.
Lily and King’s travels take them from Virginia City to Los Angeles, with glimpses at the Railroad barons, crooked politics, life in the Hispanic community and more as the author paints an entertaining look at the old west and California before the Southern Pacific Railroad came and changed life forever. King was the perfect foil for Lily as the crook with the heart of gold and Brand a perfectly rotten villain of the piece.
I found Lily to be highly engaging and I especially loved how the author brought in Lily’s love of books as a way of bringing her character to life – those references to Villette, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations and more added the perfect extra touch. While not quite up to a five star read, this was a very quick, albeit enjoyable tale, and I am very much looking forward to reading part II of her story in Lily Nevada (review below).
It’s been five years since the close of Railroad Schemes and Lily Viner, now known as Lily Nevada is a member of a theatre group en route from Virginia City to San Francisco. On the way she briefly meets up again with the despicable (in her eyes) Railroad detective Brand. In San Francisco the acting troop reaches the heights of success in their version of Hamlet as the flames of anger from the depressed railroad working class swirl around them, and Lily also searches for true love and her long lost mother.
Sound interesting? Actually it’s not, at least for this reader. Without the endearing innocence of Lily in the first novel, along with the absence of her beloved books, Lily was rather bland and I didn’t find much in the rest of the story or characters to interest me much either, especially the railroad strikers and the riots. It all just fell flat and thankfully was over quickly at just over 200 pages. Three stars, not great but not really bad either. For those who want a thumping good read about 19C San Francisco I highly recommend Gwen Bristow’s Calico Palace.