Monday, August 05, 2013

347 (2013 #31). Sweet Thunder

by Ivan Doig

Sweet Thunder is rollicking historical fiction, set in Butte, Montana, in late 1920 and early 1921.  Main character Morrie Morgan (aka Morgan Llewellyn) returns from Doig's earlier novels, The Whistling Season and Work Song.  He and his bride Grace, a boardinghouse owner/operator in Butte, are near the end of a yearlong worldwide honeymoon (and Morrie's 1919 Black Sox betting winnings), when they find they've "inherited" a mansion in Butte - along with its former owner, city librarian Sam Sandison, as a boarder.

Soon after they move in, Morrie is contacted by old friend Jared Evans, a state senator and union organizer, to write editorials for his start-up pro-labor newspaper.  Called Thunder, it's meant to rival the mouthpiece of the town's main employer, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company-controlled Post.  Morrie adopts the (clever) pen name Pluvius, and attacks the mining company for its labor practices and the lack of taxes it is assessed and pays.  The Post brings in a competing editorialist from Chicago and the war of words begins.  Meanwhile, Morrie also tries to stay ahead of his somewhat-shady past.

I enjoyed this book for its frequent use of Latin expressions, quotations from the classics, and homage to books and libraries.  I liked learning about journalism and newspapers, mining and bootlegging, and life in Montana in the early 1920s.  Ivan Doig can turn a phrase, and knows his home state well.

The characters fell a little flat for me, and I realized it was because so much of their back stories were missing.  Although it's not required to follow the entertaining plot in this book, I'd recommend reading The Whistling Season first, followed by Work Song, to enhance your enjoyment of this new novel, which will be published on August 20.  

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[I received this book from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  It will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]

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