Leticia Murphy, better known as Letty, is the only prostitute left at the White Dove Saloon in Lizard Flats. She did not plan to become a "soiled dove" in the Territories, but life was not kind to her after she hid to escape a Comanche hunting party who killed her father when Letty was only twelve. Her mother had died two years before that and left Letty with one of her few cherished memories that has become a nightly ritual. Each night Letty and her mother would look for the first star and listen for the call of the whippoorwill. Letty's mom said the bird was searching for its mate.
Letty's nights are now spent singing and providing pleasure for the men of the town She ends each evening with a warm bath that Eulis, the town drunk, prepares for her as he sweeps up the saloon.
Down the road at the bank, Alfonso Worthy, realizes it is time to be more than a secret admirer to widow Sophie Mae Hollis. They decide they will wait until the "real preacher" arrives in Lizard Flats to be married.
The preacher is Randall Howe, who has used his position not to spread the Gospel, but to gain access to vulnerable widows and young women. After a recent affair threatens to become a full blown scandal, Reverend Howe volunteers to go to Lizard Flats.
The reader follows Howe's travels as well as other characters' as they all eventually converge in the small town for a variety of reasons from matrimony to revenge. Each chapter has a clever title, so be careful not to overlook them or you will miss half the humor. The humor is mixed with tragedy and pathos, but real life is like that. These characters are flawed, but engaging. There is not sizzling romance, but there is hope and redemption and a satisfying denouement.
Whippoorwill is definitely a total change in style for Ms. Sala, as she warns readers in the preface to the book. It is not the typical romance or Western, but is more evocative of Larry McMurtry's Westerns, which capture the true flavor of the Old West with a melancholy undertone. Whippoorwill may not be quite as gritty or graphic, but it describes a time when life was tough and tenuous and hard choices often had to be made. No matter what genre Ms. Sala writes, she is a master storyteller.