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Author:  Karen Kondazian

Publisher: Hansen Publishing Group, LLC; First Edition edition (November 1, 2011)

ISBN-10: 160182302: ISBN-13: 978-1601823021 

It’s a matter of historical record that Charlotte "Charley" Parkhurst died in a small cabin near Watsonville, California, on December 18, 1879. When the body was discovered, it was learned that the legendary stagecoach driver had been living as a man for decades while keeping her true gender secret.  In a January 9, 1880 obituary first published in The San Francisco Call, one correspondent reported,Of course, great curiosity is excited as to the cause that led this woman to exist so many years in such strange guise. There may be a strange history that to a novelist would be a source of inspiration, and, again, she may have been disgusted with the trammels surrounding her sex, and concluded to work out her fortune in her own way.” Over a century later, a novelist was indeed inspired by the tale, and Karen Kondazian has woven fact and fiction into a most engaging saga of feminism in the Old West.

In terms of her central character, Kondazian has a minimal record to work with. There are apparently contradictory accounts of Parkhurst’s origins. It seems clear she was a much praised driver, or “whip,” of California stagecoaches. She apparently gun down one highwayman attempting to rob her stage. At one point, she lost an eye and thereafter wore a patch. Her legend holds she was the first woman to cast a vote in a U.S. Presidential election, but this claim has been discredited.      

But history is more than one leading character, no matter how colorful. One of the strengths of Kondazian’s story is the vivid descriptions of life in a new England orphanage, the circumstances of women in the 19th century, and life for settlers in California. This depth of detail provides verisimilitude for a tale clearly built on imagination, especially the cast of figures who are important in Parkhurst’s quest to overcome loneliness, have some voice in her own dreams, and strike vengeance against those who robbed her of happiness.  The trick was to build a flow of scenes and relationships without crossing the line into melodrama, and here Kondazian deserves considerable credit. There is one relationship in the book that is a bit over-the-top, but without it we’d lose some memorable situations that permit one hard-bitten driver to cross-dress the other direction for a change.

The Whip is a fast-paced, well constructed read that should engage anyone interested in Western history in particular or 19th century America in general. It should raise questions for discerning readers not only about gender roles but race relations and the meaning of identity for all of us. This is entertainment with depth which will likely inspire more interest in the story of Charlie Parkhurst, whomever she truly was.

  Click Here To Purchase The Whip