The Nellie Burns and Moonshine Mystery series began one full moon night. My husband and I had visited Galena Lodge in south central Idaho, near where we live, for a full moon dinner. On our way back down from this mountain pass between the Boulder Mountains and the Sawtooth Mountains, we stopped at Last Chance Ranch. My husband is a photographer and he longed to take a photograph of this ranch in the moonlight and snow. No lights were lit, so we climbed through the fence, he carrying his large format camera, tripod, and other camera gear. As he set up the camera to take the photograph, I watched the house and decided there could be a dead body in there. And lo, my Moon series of books began.
My protagonist is a young woman photographer who comes west from Chicago in the early 1920s. She yearns to be an artistic landscape photographer. Photographing Moonshadows (the name of the first book in the series) is high on her list. In addition to my husband, I have a line of photographers in my family on my maternal side, who came first to Idaho in the 1870s on their way to Oregon via wagon train. They stopped in Boise and never left Idaho. My grandmother and mother were born there, and I grew up in North Idaho in a mining town. The photographers in my family were named Burns. In early North Idaho, a woman photographer arrived from Chicago. Her name was Nellie Stockbridge. And lo, I had my first character: Nellie Burns.
Other characters turned up almost immediately: Rosy Kipling, a retired miner from Hailey (our hometown now); Charlie Asteguigoiri, the Basque sheriff for the county; Goldie Bock, the owner of a rooming house in Ketchum; a Chinese mother and son; a sheep rancher, and other persons of interest. Nellie and her photographs help solve the mystery of the dead man at the ranch, along with Moonshine, a black Labrador dog, that Nellie adopts. He becomes her constant companion. And lo, I have a sidekick.
The second and third books in the series live in Idaho—in the Stanley Basin (Basque Moon) and in Craters of the Moon (Moonscape). Each time the landscapes become characters as well, partly because of my heritage and partly because I live here after having practiced law in Seattle for many years. My books have each won honors, including Basque Moon, which was a WILLA winner in historical fiction.
My latest book, MINERS’ MOON, coming out in December, 2021, grew out of my mining town of Kellogg. I descended the mines a while ago, and all I did and learned then became the basis for this newest book. Rosy, Charlie, and Nell get tangled up in two investigations: a mine explosion where several miners are killed, and bootlegging the federal revenuers seek to stop.
Idaho has so many wonderful and strange places and history, I see no end to my Nellie Burns and Moonshine series.
Crime photographer Nellie Burns and Basque Sheriff Charlie Asteguigoiri travel from central to northern Idaho to investigate bootlegging and possible complicit town officials. A suspicious mine explosion pulls them into a second investigation. Retired miner Rosy Kipling joins them, bringing Nell’s black Lab Moonshine.
While Charlie roams the backcountry in search of illegal stills, Nell questions survivors of the explosion and a madam. Rosy descends the principal mine to listen and pry. The two investigations lead all three to discover secrets and lies—from “soda drink” parlors, local brothels, worker hints deep in the mine shafts—that have deadly consequences. Predictably, Nellie gets in over her head. A rock burst seals off Charlie and Rosy in a mine collapse. Moonshine plays an instrumental role, and Nellie tries to rise to the occasion in spite of her debilitating fear. All four long to return to their high desert home, but cannot until they lay bare the crimes before their luck runs out.
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Julie Weston’s publications include mysteries set in Idaho in the 1920s, a memoir of place about Kellogg, Idaho, where she grew up; and a coffee table book with her photographer husband, Gerry Morrison. Essays and Stories have appeared in a variety of journals, including The Threepenny Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, IDAHO magazine and others.
Awards for Weston include the WILLA Award for Historical Fiction, Story Circle Finalist award for Moonshadows, Foreword Bronze Award for Mystery and Honorable Mention for her memoir in the 2009 Idaho Book of the Year Award, among others.
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