Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors. Not only is she prolific, but many of the stories take place in Colorado. Little Souls, in fact, takes place in Denver in 1918.
The world is in the middle of the Great War, and America has entered the battles. If that isn’t bad enough, a new strain of influenza has made its way from Europe to the United States via the return of soldiers, and people are dying by the thousands. Does this sound familiar?
Following the deaths of their parents, Lutie and Helen move from Ohio to Denver. Lutie has a job working at Neusteters, a Denver department store, drawing advertising ads. Helen is a nurse, and she is in the middle of a pandemic that is causing chaos and deaths every day. To make matters worse, their tenant — a woman married to an abusive husband who has deserted her — dies from the flu, leaving her daughter Dorothy, for all intents and purposes, an orphan. Lutie and Helen take Dorothy under their wing, and begin to make arrangements to adopt the girl.
One day, Lutie comes home from work to find a murdered man (who turns out to be Dorothy’s abusive father) and Helen standing over the body with an ice pick. Helen proclaims it was self defense. The women panic, and decide to move the body out into the street where he will hopefully be mistaken for a victim of the Spanish flu. Eventually the body is discovered and found to have been murdered. The two women are facing legal action while at the same time, people claiming to be Dorothy’s aunt and uncle have come to Denver to take the child with them.
This story line is complicated by the fact that Lutie’s fiance has joined the other men fighting in France, and Helen’s boyfriend is a doctor who works every day with people suffering from the flu.
I love Dallas’ writing. Her stories are relatable, even when they are not contemporary. Being a resident of Denver, it was fun to read about the city as it was in the early years of the 20th Century. Names familiar to me from long ago — Neusteters, Denver Dry Goods, Elitches, made this story particularly interesting to me.
But at the end of the day, it was the plot that caught me and didn’t let go. I really liked this book. The descriptions of the Spanish flu were so similar to COVID-19.
As an aside, I looked up why it was called the Spanish flu. In reality, very few Spanish people were victims of this influenza strain. But the governments of the nations fighting in World War I didn’t want to be associated with a pandemic which would further panic the folks back home. Only Spanish newspapers would write about the influenza that was killing Europeans. Thus, it became referred to as the Spanish flu.