Book Review Thursday: Work Song by Ivan Doig

Work SongThis is the second book in a trilogy (The Whistling Season was the first), focusing on the witty charm and exploits of Morris “Morrie” Morgan.  This story opens with Morrie returning to Montana, getting off the train in Butte sans his worldly goods (his trunk has been lost).

Morrie has been on the far side of the world for several years, after leaving the employ of the Marias Coulee one-room school (and losing the love of his life, Rose, to Oliver Milliron).

Morrie soon finds a boarding house, run by Grace Faraday, a widow (her husband had been a miner in the employ of Anaconda).   Also living in the house are two miners, old timers Griff and Hoop.  Morrie soon finds employment as a “cryer” for a funeral home – business is brisk in Butte – mining accidents abound.  His job was to make an appearance at the wake of a dearly departed miner – he soon becomes the best cryer ever employed by C.R. Peterson Modern Mortuary Funeral Home.  However, the work does not well suit Morrie and one morning he ventures out to the Butte Public Library to look through the city directory in search of employment better suited to his taste and skills.

He meets the librarian, Samuel S. Sandison (“Sandy”) and impresses Sandy so much that he hires Morrie on the spot.  Woven throughout the story are bits and pieces of life in Butte – a wild and woolly place.  The miners union clashes with both Anaconda and the “Wobblies” (communists), so we get a glimpse into events unfolding in early 20th century America.

In a surprising reunion, Morrie discovers that one of his students from Marias Coulee, Barbara Reillis (aka “Rabrab”) is now a teacher herself in Butte and is engaged to the leader of the miners union.  Eventually, Morrie becomes involved with the union to compose a work song to boost the morale of the miners.

In the meantime, Morrie is still looking over his shoulder, carrying around his set of brass knuckles.  It seems the Anaconda “goons” are strongly suspicious of his sudden appearance in Butte.  Word gets out to the Chicago mob which he fled years ago, but Morrie manages to evade them.  However, he feels his time is running out and perhaps it’s time to move on again.  The book does have a happy ending for Morrie, leading to the third book in the trilogy, Sweet Thunder.

Rating:  ★★★★

Next Week:  Sweet Thunder

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2013.



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