The Blast | Joseph Matthews

The Blast | Joseph Matthews

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416 pages | PM Press

San Francisco, 1916.  The streets roiling: pitched battles between radical workers and the henchmen of industrial barons, and between a vibrant, largely Italian immigrant anarchist milieu and the forces of state and church.  All in the looming shadow of Europe’s raging war, and of a fierce struggle over whether the U.S. should commit its might, and human fodder, to the slaughter in the trenches.

Into this maelstrom arrives Kate Jameson, a novice envoy from Washington tasked to secretly investigate the tenor of support for war entry among San Francisco’s business elite.  She’s also hoping to glimpse her wayward daughter, Maggie, whose last message to Kate had come from there.  And, too, she’s seeking the ghost of her husband Jamey, who fifteen years earlier had landed there upon his return, shattered, from his part in the U.S. occupation of the Philippines.

Arriving back in the city at the same moment is Baldo Cavanaugh, a Sicilian-Irish son of San Francisco whose militant beliefs and special skills have led him time and again to the violent extremes of the city’s turbulent history.  And who now must confront the doubts and demons of his own character, which he’d sought to escape by fleeing the city three years before.

This stunning tale explores how these two seemingly disparate characters become engaged with the city’s and nation’s turmoil, and with the complexities of their related pasts in Boston, Dublin, London, Cuba, and the Philippines. A vivid picture of a city and a moment, the novel brilliantly reveals the explosive admixture of the deeply personal and the deeply political.