Title: Barbary Coast Triangle
Word Count: 71,358
Genre: Biographical fiction
Author: Cathleen Miller
The first book in a trilogy based on exhaustive factual research, Barbary Coast Triangle recounts the remarkable historic events of a love triangle between groundbreaking British photographer Eadweard Muybridge; his young wife, the seductive Southern belle Flora Downs; and Scottish soldier of fortune, the dashing Major Harry Larkyns. The three lead characters meet in the decadent Barbary Coast area of 1870s San Francisco. Each volume offers the story of a different member of the triangle presenting in turn their first-person account.
In Book I: Edward’s Tale we’re introduced to our protagonist, born Edward Muggeridge in Kingston-Upon-Thames, 1830. We encounter his family, village life along the Thames, and his coming of age when he loses his father. At sixteen the young man leaves Kingston, determined to make his way alone in Victorian London. However, Edward’s precarious situation instills in him a lifelong desire for status and success, so that he never has to feel the humiliation of poverty again. He apprentices as a stationer on Paternoster’s Row, then accepts a position with the London Printing and Publishing Company to open their offices in New York. In 1850, at twenty years old, Edward Muggeridge sets sail from Liverpool, carrying with him two trunks of books.
At the same time the siren song of the California Gold Rush is reported daily in the press and he watches as his friends succumb. When his employer suggests Edward pack up the trunks and open an office in California, he sails for San Francisco. At twenty-five, he considers himself a seasoned man of the world, but nothing has prepared him for the lawlessness and depravity he discovers on the Barbary Coast.
In San Francisco Edward’s business is a success, and he returns to England for the first time in ten years. But on his journey across the U.S. a stagecoach crash occurs, changing him forever. While recuperating from his accident, he learns photography, and returns to California transformed into Eadweard Muybridge, landscape photographer. Soon the ambitious Muybridge has several professional coups, including settling a $25,000 bet Leland Stanford has placed with a crony: that at one point in its stride a horse has all four hooves off the ground simultaneously. Muybridge documents this feat, and to do so he invents the shutter to capture a horse in motion, which will lead to the origin of motion pictures.
At the same time his career is ablaze, Edward meets Flora, a photo retoucher at his new studio. She’s twenty years old—half his age—married, but lives alone in a rooming house. She’ll later be referred to in the press as “the most beautiful woman in San Francisco.” She remains elusive about her past and her present, but he pays for Flora’s divorce, then marries her.
Muybridge continues on a juggernaut of landscape photography that covers the American West, leaving his beautiful young wife home alone. During one of these absences, Flora meets Harry Larkyns, who has a reputation as a ladies’ man. He’s the drama critic for the San Francisco Evening Post and uses his free passes to take Flora to the theatre. He’s also a rogue who lives way beyond his means, a habit which has landed him in jail.
When Flora announces she’s pregnant, an ecstatic Edward hires a midwife to look after her while he continues to travel for assignments. What he doesn’t realize is this midwife serves double duty as a go-between, carrying letters between Flora and Harry.
When Edward discovers a photo of his son with the words “Little Harry” on the back, he learns the baby is really Major Larkyns’ child. The photographer flies into a rage and catches the last ferry from San Francisco to Napa to find his rival. He tracks Harry to a mining camp and kills him in front of witnesses. Edward confesses, then stands trial for murder, but a jury of twelve men return a verdict of not guilty because they “could not hang a man for doing what they themselves would have done.”