© 2004 James Dalessandro
Turn of the century San Francisco was a notoriously corrupt city, filled with vice from the brothels of the Barbary Coast to the opium dens and sex slaves of Chinatown. 1906 is a political thriller that brings together two brother-cops and an intrepid lady reporter together as they attempt to throw a spotlight onto the den of scum and villainy that is city hall, exposing a political-criminal cabal controlling the city. And then…history happens, in the form of an earthquake and a fire that destroy city hall and a lot of the city, pitting the corrupt mayor against a slightly deranged general whose solutions all involve shooting or exploding things. The novel and title both indicate that this is a novel set amid the chaos of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, but in reality….the quake hits when the book is nearly over, and it merely serves as a large-scale plot twist. Because I was reading this solely for the earthquake and fire angle, I wasn’t too much interested in the seaside skulduggery — especially since one of the cops was this irritating college grad who seemed to have majored in precognition, since he keeps telling people all the mistakes they’re making, apparently armed with information from the future. Perhaps he’s a time traveler — he wouldn’t be the only one, since another character pines for cars not taking over the street yet, despite their still being rich man’s toys in 1906. devices that couldn’t roll a mile without a flat tire.
If the potential reader is interested in the actual disasters, there are a couple of very storied histories — Dan Kurzman’s Disaster! The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 was the volume that ignited my interest. It bubbles over with anecdotes that really bring the calamity to life. Less anecdotal, but written by a San Francisco citizen, is Edward F. Dolan’s Disaster 1906.
Opera fans may be interested in Enrico Caruso’s steady appearances throughout 1906. He no good a-speaka the English, because he’s-a Italiano.