1906 by James Dalessandro
Digital Audiobook narrated by Gigi Shane
Set during the great San Francisco earthquake and fire, this page-turning historical novel reveals recently uncovered facts that forever change our understanding of what really happened. Narrated by a feisty young reporter, Annalisa Passarelli, the novel paints a vivid picture of the Post-Victorian city, from the mansions of Nob Hill to the underbelly of the Barbary Coast to the arrival of tenor Enrico Caruso and the Metropolitan Opera. Central to the story is the ongoing battle—fought even as the city burns—that pits incompetent and unscrupulous politicians against a coalition of honest police officers, newspaper editors, citizens, and a lone federal prosecutor. James Dalessandro weaves unforgettable characters and actual events into a compelling epic.
When I borrowed this book from Overdrive I thought it was going to be entirely about the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906. I was a bit surprised when the story opened with an arts correspondent and a fledgling cop. For a moment, I thought I had borrowed the wrong book. But I was hooked fast.
Dalessandro opens by introducing us to a web of characters convening in San Francisco. With so many different personalities involved, it would have been easy to get lost. Dalessandro wove the multiple perspectives perfectly. We learn about the deep lines of corruption in government early in the book, and these villains follow into the disaster. It was so good.
Each character is well developed and interesting. I particularly liked the bright-eyed Kaitlin and fearless Annalisa. These two girls never needed rescuing, and bless her – Annalisa ran all across the city helping with the rescue operations in a ballgown and jewels. The variety of characters made the story rich and gave life to San Francisco at the turn of the century. I loved them all – from the little Chinese girl sold as a slave to the bellowing opera singer. Each person has been careful researched, carefully selected, and add a unique perspective to the city.
Instead of falling into the chaos of the disaster, Dalessandro follows Hunter and Annalisa as they track the villains, determined to both save their city and make sure justice is served. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but I will say this: the plot surged forward even at opportunities to fall into chaos. I was just as anxious to see the fire put out as to see the murderer caught.
The fire is where Dalessandro shines. Scenes of the rescue efforts are sharp and engulfing. He finds the perfect balance between detail and pacing. There is a particular scene near the end of the story where Hunter and Annalisa are trapped in a burning building – the writing is so vivid you can practically feel the heat. He has carefully constructed everything from the opera house to the waterfront… Dalessandro is a world-building master.
This books was not what I expected, but I deeply enjoyed it. The only real complaint I can offer is that the audio recording I listened to was fairly poor quality – there was an echo to the speech that was distracting and annoying. Otherwise, this was a compelling story. There is child trafficking, attempted rape, and considerable violence – none of it is detailed, but it is there to illustrate the corruption of the city at the turn of the century.