The VV has recently been immersed in the American HBO series of Deadwood – and she has been loving it! But, there must be a word of warning for those as yet unacquainted: Do not watch with your coy maiden aunt, or any who might be offended by 'foul language or scenes of an explicit nature'. This is a production with ‘no holds barred’.
First screened in 2004, and written almost entirely by David Milch, the story is based on real events in the 1800’s gold rush town of Deadwood, situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The photography has an atmospheric sepia tone through which scenes are played out on the tented mud streets, with gunslingers, gamblers and drunkards in the saloon and local whorehouse. Combined with a well-researched, intelligent script, and some amazing soliloquies that might almost be Shakespearian, Deadwood is a clever fusion of historical fact and fiction – all peppered with coarse language, crude behaviour and a brutal black sense of humour.
Wild Bill Hicock - Keith Carradine (left) plays his part in Deadwood.
There’s a wonderful, epileptic preacher. There’s Wild Bill Hicock. There's Calamity Jane, and Wyatt Earp. The local bar owner, Jim Swearenger (who lives up to his name in every way) is played to perfection by the actor, Ian McShane.
Deadwood has heart and soul in spades. Relationships are well-observed thoughout, though if you prefer sweetness and delicacy then you should avoid it like the plague - or the case of smallpox that breaks out in the town. Any notion of romance is confined to a nostalgia for the ‘wild west’ genre. The hard-fighting souls who inhabit the town are more likely to smoke dope and then curse at a whore than to spend their time wooing a decent girl – of whom very few would appear to exist in what was then an illegal camp on the edge of Indian territory.
With plenty of miners around about, there was a good trade for the prostitues who were often paid in gold dust. The painted ladies or soiled doves soon became a prominent fixture, for no laws had been passed to prevent or police such a practice at the time.
The first to arrive - on a wagon train - had previously worked in California, recorded as having the glorious names of Dirty Em and Madam Moustachio, or more simply Irene Love - who is shown in the photograph above.
But, such ‘flash girls’ were often only there because of force of circumstance and many would tragically succumb to the succour of opium and alcohol. Suicide was a common event with the town’s doctor always being sure to carry a stomach pump in his bag. And, with the fate of such souls in mind, the following novels spring to s mind.
The first is Missy by Chris Hannan, published in the UK in 2008. It tells the story of the young prostitute, Dol McQueen, who is addicted to ‘missy’ - the slang term for a tincture of opium. While crossing the Nevada desert, heading out to find work in San Francisco, she has a high old time evading an evil and murderous pimp after stealing a crate of opium. The novel begins with this wonderful opening line –“I expect you have the consolation of religion, or the guidance of a philosophy, but when me and the girls get frazzled, or blue, or rapturous, or just awfully so-so, we shin out and buy ourselves some hats...”
Don’t you just wish you’d written that! And the VV can assure you that the rest of the story is just as good. It’s sad and funny and tragic and...well ... read it for yourself and see.
And last, but by no means least, there is a novel that I discovered entirely by chance when researching the theatres of San Francisco.
Woman of Ill Fame (published by Heyday Books in the US) is written by the talented American author, Erika Mailman. She tells the story of Nora Simms - a hooker with a heart of gold who travels West when seeking her fortune, only to find herself embroiled in a frightening murder mystery. In the words of one reviewer, Joe Quirk –“I read Woman of Ill Fame breathless and heart-tugged, then went back and read it again. What a sexy delight. I love Nora. No-one can stop her.”
The VV loves Nora too, and can’t believe that Woman of Ill Fame has never been published here in the UK.