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Floors pitch violently, buildings collapse, San Francisco disintegrates and bosoms heave.

Were there women in the professions in 1906? Yes. Were they uncommon? Yes. Were any of them architects? Apparently. Were they full of bodice-ripping passion? Well, for that, you’ll need to turn to this sometimes steamy, more often merely humid yarn. Amelia Hunter Bradshaw is a feminist pioneer, quite happy to shock the good citizens of California with her demands for suffrage and her perky proclamations: “It’s a new century, Mr. Thayer, and we ‘females,’ as you put it, are quite capable of seeing to our own affairs.” So it appears, though a brawny pair of arms and hungry set of lips have their place in the proceedings, too. Amelia knows her way around an I-beam, as we learn courtesy of Ware’s constant exposition: “From what we’ve seen so far,” Amelia’s partner in the building trades asserts, “it looks as if we’ll have to start in the basement and methodically work our way to the sky with reinforcing construction,” to which our heroine replies: “At least the basement’s already cleared of rubble and shorn up with support posts.” Alas, the prose bumps along like a bowling ball descending a shaky staircase, as witness the opening sentence: “James Diaz Thayer scooped the deck of cards bearing his initials into a pile on top of the late Charlie Hunter’s desk in the bowels of Nob Hill’s celebrated Bay View Hotel.” Anyone up for diagramming that one? Things don’t get much better, though there are some competently imagined scenes of death and destruction, and even of smooching. The tale grinds along like a right-lateral strike-slip fault to a long-awaited end that, regrettably, does not include much elastic rebound. In her favor, Amelia is nicer than Howard Roark and a worse shot than Leon Czolgosz, but that’s about the best that can be said for this book.

A novel in need of a solid foundation.
Pub Date: April 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4022-2269-6
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2011


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