cover image House of Blazes

House of Blazes

Dietrich Kalteis. ECW (Perseus/Legato, U.S. dist.; Jaguar, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-77041-286-6

Kalteis sets his fourth crime novel (after Triggerfish) in 1906 in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast district, “a back alley of vice and corruption,” viewed by many as “a moral cancer on this Paris of the Pacific.” The story pits Levi Hayes, who has returned from doing five years in San Quentin Prison for stealing $30,000 in gold from the San Francisco mint, against the powerful Healey brothers, who he believes saw to it that he was found guilty. Levi wants to return to the House of Blazes, his barroom seized by the Healeys, to recover the gold coins hidden in the cellar walls and to seek revenge on the brothers. Laden with local color—gambling dens, houses of prostitution, lawlessness—much of the action takes place against the backdrop of the great earthquake and fire of 1906, and Kalteis vividly depicts the terror and random death both caused. Populated by a diverse cast of well-drawn characters, including Levi, his nephew Mack Lewis, the newly widowed Mabel Porter, black widow Florence Healey, madam Pearly Wilkes, crooked copper Quinn Healey, pimp Byron Blake, and Red Tom, this book is for readers who like their history gritty and action-packed. (Oct.)