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by Ivan Doig

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59448-734-7
Publisher: Riverhead

Morrie Morgan returns (Work Song, 2010, etc.) to again confront the evil Anaconda Copper Mining Company, as well as several unwelcome reminders of his checkered past.

Just back in Butte after a yearlong honeymoon with Grace, who’s temporarily given up her boardinghouse but not her suspicions that her irrepressible spouse isn’t much of a provider, Morrie needs to find a job fast. Not only has he nearly run through his winnings from a savvy bet on the fixed 1919 World Series, but he has an expensive mansion to maintain; wealthy cattleman-turned-librarian Sam Sandison hands over his home in an upper-crust neighborhood sardonically known as Horse Thief Row with the proviso that Morrie has to pay for its upkeep. So Morrie goes to work as the editorial writer for a new newspaper funded by the miners’ union to counter Anaconda’s propaganda for unfettered capitalism. Many, many complications ensue—this is Doig’s most elaborately (and occasionally improbably) plotted novel—but they are less interesting than the marvelously atmospheric portrait of the bygone newspaper trade and an engaging cast of characters sketched with the author’s customary vigor. Among the familiar figures are careworn union leader Jared Evans, devising strategy from his new post as state senator; and the semireformed street kid known as Russian Famine who leads Morrie to a gut-clenching climax high atop the mineshafts’ towering headframes. Unscrupulous but gifted columnist Cedric “Cutthroat” Cartwright, recruited from Chicago by Anaconda to bandy editorials with Morrie, makes a colorful addition who gets a highly satisfying comeuppance. It’s mostly a lighthearted romp, right down to the striking likeness to Montana’s “number one bootlegger” that enables Morrie finally to make sure the Chicago mob won’t dare come after him. Yet Doig also quietly conveys the injustices and cruelties of American history, particularly in the realistically depressing and temporary resolution of the union’s struggle with Anaconda.

An enjoyable change-up from The Bartender’s Tale (2012) and welcome evidence that Doig, in his 70s, is more prolific and entertaining than ever.