It’s January 1912 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the city’s Italian immigrant textile workers have gone on strike. Police inspector Amos Flanagan is worried about the safety of his 19-year-old son, Paddy, a supervisor in one of the mills. But Paddy’s not the one who’s in danger. One evening, after the factory owners resort to hosing down the picketers, Paddy finds an Italian girl nearly frozen to death on the pavement. He carries her home to his mother and immediately falls in love. To him, Maria Petrella is “like something out of [the] Arabian Nights, all eyes, with a figure and grace of movement calculated to destroy his brain.” Because her father objects to an Irish suitor, however, the two young people begin meeting in secret. In the meantime, the leading mill owner wants Amos, who has friends in the Italian community, to find out what the strikers are planning. Soon after, the police get a tip about a cache of dynamite that the strikers may be intending to use to blow up the mills, but Amos suspects the explosives were planted. This novel keeps a fast pace as it alternates between its two main plotlines. Some readers may have trouble following the action, however, because of a maze of other subplots: Amos is also trying to save a boy from his abusive father, settle a case of “bastardy,” and decide whether to comply with his father-in-law’s request that he quit the force and move to Boston to run the family trucking business. In addition, Maria’s parents move back to Italy, taking her with them. Many of the characters are underdeveloped and broadly drawn, but Bakewell does make sure that major real-life figures involved in the strike get at least a mention, including Joseph Ettor, an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, and Arturo Giovannitti of the Italian Socialist Federation. Readers who stick with the complex story will be rewarded by a happy ending.
A historical novel that’s long on plot but short on character.