Monday 1 April 2024


By Stephen Overholser

Bantam Books, December 1981

Molly Owens is an ace operative for the Fenton Investigative Agency sent undercover to crack the most challenging frontier crimes. When she has to be, Molly is as rough as her .38 calibre Colt double-action Lightning model revolver. When she wants to be, Molly’s woman enough to melt in a man’s arms. In Cripple Creek, Molly is swept up in the West’s richest gold strike trying to expose a blackmailer. Three men are after her. One owes her his life; one is trying to kill her and one is falling in love. And just as the case takes a vicious twist towards murder, Molly is plunged in the middle of a deadly mine war that is primed to explode.

According to the notes in the book, detective and investigative agencies in the second half of the nineteenth century employed quite a few women to work as undercover operatives, so Molly is an authentic western character. The story is set in 1895, and is based very loosely on the miner’s strike of the previous year in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Molly and the Gold Baron is the first entry in a series of five books, although it is not the first story to feature Molly Owens as Stephen Overholser wrote a book that was published in 1975 called Molly and the Confidence Man.

The story is a western mystery tale. Molly is sent to discover who is behind the blackmail attempt of millionaire miner Winfield Shaw. Molly soon figures this out but this ends in murder and Molly hasn’t uncovered any proof so Shaw’s blackmailer remains free even though she has identified this person. Asked to remain in Cripple Creek to help stop the brewing miners strike and impending violence this will bring Molly agrees as she believes she can find the proof she needs to have the killer blackmailer jailed at the same time. Most of the book follows Molly as she gets involved with various characters and asks her questions in what is a very straight-forward yarn.

Bad language is minimal, and action scenes sparse until the final third of the book. I have seen this series listed as adult westerns but I’d question that. True the book does contain a couple of sex scenes but one is covered in a couple of paragraphs whilst the other is described over two pages and is nowhere near as explicit as would be found in a Longarm book for example.

Molly does get to use all her talents, her female wiles and her excellence in observation, her ability in the art of self-defence, her lock-picking skills and her capability with her gun. Molly is also extremely cool when in danger and never seems to fear for her life.

Overholser tells his tale in an adequate style that kept me turning the pages just to see how everything turned out, but I was never overly gripped by the storyline. I was inspired enough to search out and read about the real Cripple Creek miners’ strike though. Will I read another Molly Owens book? Probably not in the foreseeable future.

Molly series
Molly and the Confidence Man
1. Molly and the Gold Baron
2. Molly on the Outlaw Trail
3. Molly and the Indian Agent
4. Molly and the Railroad Tycoon
5. Molly and the Gambler

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