HOUSE OF BLAZES by Dietrich Kalteis


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Kalteis (Triggerfish, 2016, etc.) offers a shoot-'em-up from the get-go, adding a twist by making the principal player a hard-to-cheer-for ex-con seeking revenge while in the middle of a natural disaster.

Once owner of Barbary Coast’s House of Blazes, Levi Hayes is back home after a stretch at San Quentin. Marvin Healey wanted Levi’s saloon property for a shipyard development, and so Marvin fingered Levi for theft of U.S. Mint gold coins. Levi wants revenge—and the purloined coins he hid—so he asks his rough-and-tumble second cousin, Mack Lewis, for help. He’ll need it. Marvin’s brother, Quinn, is a cop and a psychopath. This caper quickly turns into a cinematic adventure since Levi’s homecoming was April 16, 1906, two days before the massive San Francisco earthquake. Halfway into the story, the Paris of the Pacific is aflame, and descriptions of saloons and bawdy houses of ill repute add smoke-fills-your-nose realism. Levi, pursued by Quinn, sets off to recover the coins, but Mack feels compelled to escort a comely widow, her nursing infant, and assorted other refugees to safety. Kalteis sketches portraits of victims pinned by beams, dead animals, and other effluvia emitting odors "worse than the inside of hell’s back-house," and anxious soldiers given orders to shoot looters on sight lend a reportorial air to the story. Character development isn’t a priority. Levi remains obsessed. Marvin’s part is minuscule. Quinn is a psychopath without nuance. Second fiddle Mack shows signs of evolution, although the quirkiest of characters are relegated to bit parts—like the formidable brothel owner, Pearly, or the ruthless Florence, Marvin’s wife, a man-eater as dangerous as her husband.

What might have been a fast-moving but routine crime caper has gained added interest from its setting amid the turmoil of San Francisco's 1906 earthquake.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-77041-286-6
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: ECW Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2016


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