Sweet Thunder

Opening an Ivan Doig novel is like greeting an old friend. His 12th, Sweet Thunder, is another yarn of ordinary Montana folks from the days when the West was still a bit wild, told in his characteristic rich language, from Latin phrases to immigrant slang. Best of all for his fans, it brings back itinerant wordslinger Morris Morgan, introduced in 2007's Whistling Season and last seen in Work Song (2010), leading Butte's miners in the charge against the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

Readers new to Doig's work won't feel that they've arrived in the middle of a story, but those who've met Morrie before will be happy to see Sweet Thunder opens as he returns to Butte with his wife, Grace, after their honeymoon. Morrie, still haunted by some shady past encounters, reluctantly accepts a job as an editorial writer for Butte's new newspaper, founded to take on the Anaconda-run daily. As he says, he's destined to be a "gazeteer of risky occurrences" in a town choked by "the copper collar."

While Morrie's zest for easing miners' woes and the perils of taunting the powerful Anaconda are sober themes, Doig's rollicking storytelling offers plenty of humor and drama: crotchety librarian Sandy Sanderson has a weakness for rare books (and bootleg Scotch); colorful multi-ethnic immigrants enhance the plot; Grace, while adoring Morrie, has limits to her patience. Ultimately, though, the power of the press and the glory of the written word are Doig's true heroes. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

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