Walsh (Becoming Bonnie) hits the jackpot with an impressive fictionalization of the life of Eleanor Dumont (formerly Simone Jules), a blackjack dealer in the Old West. In 1849 New Orleans, Simone, 19, is happy to be marrying trader David Tobin. But after Simone’s parents and sister die in a fire and David reveals his interest in taking over her father’s jewelry shop, Simone boards a ship bound for San Francisco for a fresh start. With a mind for numbers and memories of her mother playing 21, Simone endears herself to a gruff saloonkeeper when she brings in thousands of dollars at the blackjack tables, using her velvety feminine voice to throw the drunken gold panners off their game. A romance with Black freedman Arthur Reynolds is cut short after a New York merchant named Reuben Withers accuses Simone and Arthur of card sharping, then stabs him to death. Simone tracks Reuben across the West and sets up a gambling club in Nevada City, Calif., where she changes her name to Eleanor, earns the nickname “Madam Moustache,” and wonders if Reuben will show his face. Walsh weaves emotion and suspense with historical details of a woman persevering in the face of inequality as she finds a way to earn a living. Readers will relish Walsh’s fully developed portrait.
First reviewed on Publishers Weekly site on 7/14/21: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-948018-95-1
GUYS, I am so excited for this book and so thankful to Shannon and Nancy for helping me bring Eleanor Dumont's (aka Madame Moustache's) story to readers.
My interest in Eleanor Dumont’s story bloomed as I began researching the women of the California gold rush. It wasn’t long before I came upon a name unknown to me, Madame Moustache. As it turned out, Madame Moustache was the sobriquet for Eleanor Dumont, who was born as Simone Jules, and who had popularized vingt-et-un, now known as blackjack.
The presence of three names for a single woman intrigued me. I wondered how one name bled into the next and how life winded to a nickname—one I didn’t initially find particularly endearing—that Eleanor lived with for over a decade. I wondered if she endured the moniker for all those years or if she was accepting of the name, which was spat at her after taking a man’s last dime during a game of vingt-et-un and offering him a glass of milk, Eleanor having been claimed to have said, "Any man silly enough to lose his last cent to a woman deserves a milk diet.”
In all the anecdotes I found of Eleanor, she was warmhearted, quick-witted, business savvy, courageous, and tenacious. The attributes led me to believe that perhaps Eleanor didn’t tolerate the nickname but instead embraced it. After that, there was no stopping me from telling her story.
And I hope you're excited to read it!!
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