This is the story of Blanche, a dancer and prostitute in 1876 San Francisco. The characters are based on real people, Donoghue has filled in some gaps in the story with her imagination, but she explains what she made up and the clues she used to do it in the Afterword. The story drags a little at the beginning, but once it got going it moved along very fast.
The chapters skip about in time a little. The book begins towards the end of the story, with Blanche’s cross-dressing friend, Jenny, getting shot. The rest of the book is a whodunnit, and both Blanche and Jenny lead the sort of lives that tend to collect quite a large number of murder suspects.
I very much enjoyed reading about San Francisco when it was just thirty years old. Donoghue drops in some nice historical facts and slight stretching of fact to colour up the story. In the Afterword she explains which is which.
It is partly a whodunnit, partly a story of how dreadfully women and children and immigrants were treated back then. But it is mostly about a twenty-four year old girl growing up and becoming a woman, and ultimately, finding true love.