Sweet Thunder: A Novel

by Ivan Doig

Hardcover, 2013

Call number




Riverhead Books (2013), Edition: 1St Edition, 320 pages


After inheriting a fixer-upper, newlywed Morrie Morgan returns to 1920s Butte, Montana, to fight a rival newspaper and help the miners working for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jfurshong
Ivan Doig has followed his bestseller, “Work Song” with a sequel titled “Sweet Thunder.” Both are set in the brawling mining city of Butte, Montana in the late teens and early 1920s and both center on Morrie Morgan, the central character of an earlier Doig novel called “The Whistling
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Season”. Morrie has led an improbable life that contains episodes as a prize-fighter in Chicago, a one-room school teacher in Montana and a librarian and labor organizer in Butte. He has also been involved in a great deal of chicanery in his past and he lives looking over his shoulder for “window men” who might be tailing him.

As “Sweet Thunder” begins Morrie is at the tail end of a one year honeymoon, following his marriage to Grace, a former Butte boarding house owner. He and Grace receive an unexpected legacy and return to Butte just as Morrie’s bank account is approaching zero.
Relationships begun in “Work Song” resume and Morrie soon finds himself embroiled again in the bitter struggle between the immigrant miners of Butte and the oppressive and exploitative Anaconda Company. This time Morrie is writing for a new labor newspaper, the fictitious Thunder, attempting to provide a voice for the labor movement that will match the company-owned Butte Daily Post.

Doig is expert at weaving many characters together, each with their own story that illustrates the complex immigrant character of Butte in the 1920’s. But the plot is deceptively simple and expectations of something a little more weighty and meaningful are soon disappointed.

As a native Montanan, growing up in Anaconda, a nearby community whose history is intricately intertwined with Butte’s, I was hoping for a more accurate portrayal of the union-labor struggle and the role of the newspapers as a tool of Wall Street in remote Montana. Doig includes as a background character a timid Montana governor who vacillates in backing the union workers in their struggle. In reality the Montana gubernatorial campaign of 1920 was entirely focused on a battle between anti-Anaconda Company candidate and former federal prosecutor, Burton K. Wheeler and company-backed Joseph Dixon. With an array of company-owned newspapers across Montana hammering Wheeler with the threat of a red menace, Dixon of course won the election. This story is well chronicled in Dennis Swibold’s “Copper Chorus” (2006) and would have provided a much more interesting background to “Sweet Thunder”. Instead, a sort of Disney-like atmosphere prevails in Doig’s novel and a light, heartwarming novel is the result.

Ivan Doig is often an excellent writer. His “This House of Sky” and several earlier novels are well-written and are worthy of his Pulitzer nomination. Montanans are proud that their native son tells their story to a national audience. But this Montana has got his fingers crossed that a stronger, tighter, more compelling novel will emerge next time.
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LibraryThing member BALE
Montana has served as the backdrop for most of Ivan Doig's novels, Sweet Thunder included. Doig's depiction of the American West, and the colorful characters that have lived and worked there, is both rugged and romantic. He makes heroic figures out of his idealized miners and journalists who are
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brought together in a variety of quirky situations.

The characters in Sweet Thunder were influenced by events that occurred in the early 1920’s – the timeframe in which this story takes place. Work-a-day men were pit against Corporate America via unions in a demand for safe working conditions, reasonable work hours, fair wages and equal taxation. This was particularly true in Butte, Montana where the copper miners fought for those rights from the omnipotent Anaconda Mining Company – aka the “copper collar”. This caused tension between the two factions, which sometimes resulted in violence or murder.

Doig skillfully played out this drama in typical Doig fashion – with insightful quips and idiosyncratic phrases and references. Yet, measured against some of his previous work, Sweet Thunder lacks dimension. I found that profound and penetrating quality I usually associate with Doig, missing. However, please do not misunderstand me, Sweet Thunder is not poorly written; it is a light and entertaining read that simply falls a little short from what I have come to expect from Doig.`
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LibraryThing member Unkletom
Ivan Doig’s latest historical novel serves as a fitting eulogy for a dying industry whose absence will be sorely missed. Early in my career I worked as a budding reporter and my first city editor once said “I haven’t told my mother I’m an editor. She still thinks I run numbers on the
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waterfront”. This offhand remark from a hardworking and dedicated employer highlights the dichotomy that is the American newspaperman; at once a fearless crusader for justice and a hard-drinking, skirt-chasing reprobate.

‘Sweet Thunder’ is the story of Morrie Morgan (aka Morgan Llewellyn, aka Pluvius), an alumni of at least two previous Doig novels, who, inherits a house in uptown Butte, Mont., and moves into it with his new bride, Grace. He soon lands a job writing editorials for Thunder, a newspaper championing the rights of union miners at a time when every other newspaper in the state was owned by the Anaconda Copper Company. When his editorials begin to make waves, their competitor imports a well-known stringer from Chicago. What follows is a classic newspaper war, complete with spying, sabotage and felonious assaults against newsboys.

The plot itself is not overly complicated which is fine with me. It frees the author to provide a wealth of information about Butte, newspapers and labor relations in the 1920s. Unfortunately, the ending is somewhat disappointing, leaving the reader to believe the winning a battle is akin to winning the war. Even so, Doig has presented us with an engaging story that, while far from being a thriller, is sure to entertain.

* The review copy of this book was obtained from the publisher via the Amazon Vine Program.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
Morrie Morgan is back in Butte, Montana, and where Morrie goes, you know that trouble won't be far behind. But as the book begins, it seems that Morrie may have settled down. At the end of our previous visit with Morrie in [Work Song], Morrie married boardinghouse owner, Grace. They've been on a
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whirlwind of a honeymoon, but they return to Butte when Morrie's former boss, Sandy gives them his mansion in exchange for the opportunity to room there. Morrie is not back in Butte long before he learns that the copper mining company is at it again. He becomes an editorialist for the newspaper that is the voice of the working man, The Thunder, and quickly becomes a target of Anaconda's dirty tricks.

Doig no longer has to prove himself as a storyteller. It is simply an assumption that as I open the pages of one of his books, I will fall right in and be carried along by the characters and the plot right to the last page. Doig's prose never pulls me out of the story - it simply does its job. But it can be beautiful too. Here's one example:

"There may be a trek through a neighborhood of hell - I hope never to find out - similar to the abandoned part of the Hill. The dead zone, where the violated earth had yielded up all its treasure of copper. Gray waste heaps lay like nightmare dunes that knew no shifting sands, inert forever. Glory holes gaped at random in what bare ground remained on the steep hillside. Up top, the gallows frame of the Muckaroo mine reared against the sky, westernmost of the stark dozens of such headframes, silenced by the lockout, scattered across the crest of the Hill like strange spawn of Eiffel's Parisian tower." (p. 286)

Another fine contribution by this storyteller of the West.
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LibraryThing member ArieJvdP
Doig is inimitable. If you enjoy a goodhearted story, gentle in tone (even if brass knuckles are critical to the plot), moderate in ambition, and replete with occasional wordplay, then a book by Doig is a treasure. This latest is good, enjoyable, well worth the price of entry, if not his best.
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Enjoy alliteration "like a camera aperture finding finer focus" and Butte had drawn "seekers of wealth, from miners to moguls", while journeying from prize fighter to librarian in 1920s Butte, Montana. And, oh yes, newspapering, union agitation, and rum running. Sounds like ingredients for a stew that should not be, but Doig cooks it light and tasty.
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LibraryThing member Nevadablue
Doig has done it again, another masterpiece in story telling. Sweet Thunder brings back Morris Morgan, my favorite Doig character, in a tale about Anaconda Copper Company in the early part of the century, in Butte, Montana. Doig knows the history of mining in Butte and Montana, and how to tell the
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essence of that history. His ability to write about human nature, good and bad, is special, and his characters are simply wonderful. If you don’t read Doig, you are living with a hole in your life. As with all his stories, this one is perfect.
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LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
In the first few sentences of this novel, before I realized I met Morrie in The Whistling Season, my impression is that his scruples were a bit off-base but I was going to like him anyway. I wasn't wrong.

Morrie has had to reinvent himself again, a chameleon on a barber pole, and there are
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consequences. Of course. But he has a wonderful bride, a mansion to maintain, and is fighting the good fight to protect Butte, Montana miners whose lives are controlled by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

As with Doig's earlier works, the characters are rich, the writing is straightforward and beautiful, and the story is engrossing. I read The Whistling Season shortly before I read this one, not realizing that Work Song was the second in the trilogy. While I want to read Work Song, I wasn't lost in this story by skipping that one; this one can be read as a self-contained novel that is enhanced by reading the others. Still, I recommend reading them in order.

While I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and give it a four-star rating, especially in comparison to most books of the genre, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed The Whistling Season. That one was really special, while this one is a good read and well above average, but didn't affect me as much as the earlier book.

I was given an advance copy of the book for review.
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LibraryThing member khiemstra631
Sweet Thunder, the latest from Ivan Doig, completes an unexpected trilogy. (I don't think he announces he is writing a trilogy; it just turns out that way.) It began with Whistling Season followed by Work Song and now Sweet Thunder, all of which featured the glib-tongued Morrie Morgan as the main
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character. In this episode, Morrie and Grace Morgan have just returned to Butte following their one-year honeymoon that was financed by illicit betting winnings off of the fixed 1919 World Series. Morrie finds himself as the unexpected owner of a mansion and as an unexpected editorial writer for a start-up labor newspaper, The Thunder. As in Work Song, the miners are engaged in all-out war against the Anaconda company, which totally controls life in Butte and its main newspaper, The Post. Morrie's life is threatened on numerous occasions and other great upheavals occur. As always, Doig's prose is a thing of total beauty. A not-to-be missed western novel from an American classic.
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LibraryThing member scenik1
Reviewed for Library Thing.
Bottom line: just a well-told tale; a good story well told. In this, the third novel to feature Morrie Morgan (after THE WHISTLING SEASON and WORK SONG), Doig gives us good guys and bad guys and a nobel cause to fight over. It is so refreshing to be able to root for the
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clear-cut heroes, as ramshackle a lot as they are. This is a book that is a pleasure to read and an even greater pleasure to come back to. I wish now that I had read WORK SONG, if only to have followed the thread of this character through. The character of Morrie Morgan is a treasure with his gift for stumbling into just the right thing: the right turn of phrase, the winning horse bet, the perfect job, his own mansion; as well as just the wrong thing: being mistaken for a bootlegger kingpin, the ire of the evil mining company’s key editor, and the ever present shadow of the Chicago mob he tricked. But more than just a great character, the plot abounds with dramatic tension: the editorialist facing off against the powerful mining company with their all-pervasive control and the clattering newsroom finding, time and again, the answer that will put the underdog one step ahead. The big question, “What price progress, what cost if not?”, is still pertinent today, as is the issue of justice and safety for the laborers. The lyrical prose has the potential to lull the reader and pull him along, possible causing him to miss a significant detail that will become important later; and the novel has the air of be deceptively quaint, which one finds it is not. By way of Morgan’s editorials, Doig gives the reader an entertaining ride through the delights of our own language. Even with big issues at stake and three malignant groups after our hero, all comes to a sweet and satisfying end. Well done!
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LibraryThing member GarySeverance
Ivan Doig’s Sweet Thunder is another good tale of the West this time set in the Anaconda Copper mine town of Butte Montana in 1920 during the prohibition era. The working class includes mostly Welsh, Irish, Scots, and Italian immigrants trying to earn a living wage in mining conditions that are
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largely unregulated. The ruling class is composed of executives, with indeterminate heritage, in the Anaconda headquarters who reap the rewards of the toil of the miners and manipulate them with immunity. It is a tough life, but the miners retain their cultural traditions brought from Europe in their work and play. The Anaconda managers have their eyes on the bottom line, always ready to sacrifice the safety and earnings of the workers to increase corporate profit.

In this context, Morgan Llewellyn (AKA Morrie Morgan) arrives back in Butte after his honeymoon with his wife Grace, owner of a Butte boarding house. Morrie is an interesting free thinker with a taste for gambling. His risk taking approach to life makes him charismatic, and he establishes friendships and working relationships with many people. Morrie also draws attention from cads who object violently to his winning their money and interfering in their illegal businesses, such as bootlegging. It doesn’t help him to avoid life threatening danger that he is a master of the high end wisecrack. He uses his encyclopedic knowledge gained from his love of reading books from all fields of knowledge to make fun of his adversaries. Yet this is the very characteristic that gets him a job on a startup anti-Anaconda newspaper as an editorial writer.

Mr. Doig describes Morrie’s successes and failures in his work and personal relationships using the character as a narrator with great sartorial skills. Morrie reminds me of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe sidekick Archie and Lawrence Sanders’ investigator Archy. But, Morrie has a higher level of literary knowledge to work with than those two interesting characters. This is the second book featuring Morrie, the first being Work Song that I enjoyed reading. The earlier novel placed Morrie in the same location as this one with similar battles between worker and management at Anaconda. But in Sweet Thunder, Morrie is in a more precarious position to either win it all or lose everything, including his wife.

Ivan Doig has written a very entertaining and historically informative two book series and I hope he continues it as Morrie ages (if his luck holds) in the first half of the 20th Century.
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LibraryThing member Rosareads
Reading an Ivan Doig book is always simple joy for me. He weaves a good "yarn" with beautifully drawn characters. Doig loves language and plays with words in delightful ways. His primary character, Morrie Morgan, is erudite: he has an encyclopedic memory and a love for Latin and the classics.
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Doig's characters are modeled on the best of the comic book heroes and villains. You can't help but root for the good-guys and boo the bad ones as you follow the plot. And there is always a plot with a true hero's journey and confounding obstacles on every page.

Embedded in the novel is an ethical dilemma that confronts society today. I don't think the author intends the reader to get away with only pleasure. He wants some meat to chew on, too. In this case the issue is the conflict between the corporation and the individual. An absolutely current topic.

This book, Sweet Thunder, is the fourth book that calls upon Morrie Morgan as the hero. In the first book, The Whistling Season (one of my favorite all time reads) he's a young man escaping from a blighted background. He becomes, from necessity, a school teacher and turns into one of the finest. Many of the endearing characteristics of that novel are present in Sweet Thunder. I strongly recommend it for any reader looking for a "fun read."
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LibraryThing member msbaba
Ivan Doig is celebrated as one of the most accomplished writers of American Western literature. But for me, he has always been far more than that: he is simply a master of literary prose—an accomplished literary author who just happens to set most of his novels in the American West.

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latest novel, Sweet Thunder, takes place in Butte, Montana, the 1920s, during the peak of the copper mining boom. It’s a rollicking, entertaining, tempestuous tale about a protracted labor dispute between the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and the union. It’s the simple, age-old story about men fighting for fair wages, reasonable work hours, and safe working conditions. It’s also the story about a battle between two newspapers: the Company-owned Daily Post and the independent pro-Union Thunder. The protagonist, Morrie Morgan, writes the editorials for the “Thunder.” It’s not a complicated plot…just a colorful, fascinating, and powerful battle with a clear winner and a loser.

We’ve encountered Morrie Morgan twice before in Doig’s novels: first in Whistling Season and later in Work Song. But each of these books is complete within itself and they should not be considered as forming any kind of series. Virtually all of Doig’s books deal with a specific corner of Montana, during a specific period in history. Any character that he’s brought to life in one novel can easily reappear in another. Secondary or minor characters in one novel can become protagonists in another. It happens in Doig’s novels all the time. It is the place—and more important the values of the people in that place—that stays constant.

Sweet Thunder was a very good story; it’s entertaining and I had fun reading it; but overall, I was somewhat disappointed. I’d expected more. I felt there was something important missing…something that other Doig books had delivered, but this did not.

His two best-selling novels—Whistling Season and Bartender’s Story—were heartfelt coming-of-age stories with profound emotional depth. Sweet Thunder is nothing like that. It is full of quirky and complex characters engaged in convoluted and complicated human-interest subplots (many downright improbable); it’s got lots of frisky dialogue, small-town shenanigans, and delightful old-style editorial word-slinging. I was looking for something with sage psychological insight. That’s not where this story took me. Pure and simple: it wasn’t that type of book. I shouldn’t have been disappointed.

This book showcases another side of Ivan Doig. Whistling Season and Bartender’s Story are books that still linger with me. They’ve attached themselves fiercely to my emotional memory. In all probability, Sweet Thunder will eventually fade from my memory and the book will amount to little more than many hours of high-quality entertainment. But I have to remind myself that that’s perfectly okay!

I was thrilled with the book’s tribute to books and libraries. I enjoyed learning about bootlegging, mining, printing–press-style journalism, small-town newspapers, and life in Big Sky country in the early 1920s. If you’re looking for a book that offers high-quality entertainment, I recommend this novel, especially if you have a keen interest in any of these areas.
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LibraryThing member Oregonreader
Sweet Thunder takes up where Doig's previous Morrie Morgan novel, Work Song, ended. Doig has brought back Morgan, his new wife, Grace, and all the inhabitants we have come to know in 1920 Butte, Montana. Morgan's affinity for luck, both good and bad, make for a great story. He again takes on the
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fight between the Anaconda Mining Company and the mine workers. Doig is such a great storyteller and this one is filled with his wit, humor, and unforgettable characters.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
This a story of Butte, Montana in the 1920s, the struggles with the mining conglomerate, and the story of a young man who has a talent with words and decides to use it as a newspaper editor in the one newspaper not held by the "copper collar," willing to stand up against the Anaconda mining company
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which has a stranglehold on the town.

I did not love this as much as previous works of Doig's which I've read. Something was lacking, I'm not sure what. It had lots of books and book references, the characters were booklovers and librarians. It had lots of interesting bits about journalism and newspapers, it had interesting bits about mining in Butte, Montana in the early part of the 1900s, and about booleggers, but for some reason the main character was remote and I couldn't love him. I did enjoy his character in The Whistling Season, but always was wary of him. My two favorite Doig works have been from the perspective of young boys. I wonder if that has anything to do with it? Anyway, this was a fine and interesting work, it simply didn't make me want to climb into it and love the people there like I have with his other books.
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LibraryThing member coho8
Morrie Morgan returns to Butte, Montana, hiding behind a beard and a change (or two) of name. He puts his considerable literary skills to good use as the editorial voice of the new union newspaper, the Thunder, engaging in a verbal fist fight with a rival paper backed by Anaconda Copper. The story
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takes us back to a time when newspapers, hand-set and hot off the press, were eagerly bought on street corners. Ivan Doig’s deft hand at storytelling transports the reader to 1920 Butte in the era of burgeoning union activities, greedy capitalism, bootlegging and the underhanded, sometimes life-threatening, activities of that cast of players.

This erudite author has a facile use of language, a dry wit and a broad knowledge of Montana history that bring the time period, characters and landscape to life. Although a bit short of plot, this is a very enjoyable historical novel. It is not necessary to first read the two earlier novels with the character “Morrie” (“The Whistling Season” and “Work Song”) before this one, but if you like this book I think you will be pleased as well with previous works by Ivan Doig.
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LibraryThing member Randall.Hansen
I love me some Ivan Doig. He has a great style of writing and his characters are full of life. This novel centers on one of my favorite of his characters, Morrie Morgan... the very smart (sometimes for his own good) former school teacher and librarian from two previous novels... now back in Butte,
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Montana, for a second go at living in the cooper-collared town. Good story, though drags a little at times -- with a few too many meanderings... and then with a final chapter that amazingly ties the whole story up in a bow.
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LibraryThing member rglossne
This is the first Morrie Morgan novel I've read, and I have to say I am looking forward to reading the previous two! Doig is an able storyteller, whose charming characters and fast paced story kept me reading. I won't review the plot here, as others have done so before me. That the Butte Public
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Library was so important to the plot was delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will read more Ivan Doig.
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LibraryThing member BobNolin
A disappointing novel by Doig, who can do much, much better than this. Just barely kept my interest.
LibraryThing member SamSattler
In the winter of 1920, Butte, Montana, is a boomtown thanks to the huge copper deposits that sit below the city. The future of the city, however, largely depends on one company - the Anaconda Copper Mining Company - a Chicago corporation that intends to maximize its profits by paying as low a wage
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to its miners as possible. Things have gotten so bad for the miners, in fact, that recently their union has had to accept a dollar per day reduction in wages just to save jobs and keep the mines open.

Morrie Morgan, touring Europe and some of America’s most colorful cities for the past year with his new bride, has no idea how bad things have gotten in his adopted hometown. But when he learns that he has been gifted with one of Butte’s most impressive mansions, he and his bride come home to find why. Now, having accepted the generous gift, Morrie realizes that he has to find a decent-paying job if he is going to be able to pay the taxes and upkeep on his new house. So, when he is offered the editorial-writer job at a new, pro-union, newspaper, he jumps at the offer, setting off a chain of events that will place his life in danger, strain his marriage, and, ultimately, change him into the kind of man he so badly wants to be.

Ivan Doig, one of the most respected writers about the American West, succeeds in capturing the spirit and state of 1920s America, a time during which labor unions were still vital to the wellbeing of the workers they represented. He realistically portrays both the psychological warfare and the violence that huge corporations used to dominate and then discard workers for decades. Where Doig somewhat fails is in making his central characters into fully fleshed human beings the reader will care about – be those characters villains or heroes. Although Doig pushes many of the right emotional buttons, readers still are likely to see many of the characters as stereotypical representations of the times.
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LibraryThing member charlottem
Best read in order, as all series are but, Mr. Doig tells a good story, whether stand alone or series.
LibraryThing member brangwinn
Ivan Doig continues to be a great storyteller. I want to visit Butte Montana if for no other reason, the remarkable characters he writes about in that city. What I liked best about this book was that his historical novel takes us to the beginning of the labor issues at the Anaconda Copper Mines.
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We've met the Morrie, the walking encyclopedia before in THE WHISTLING SEASON. This time he's become the op-ed editor for the new pro-labor newspaper. And as always, you might want your dictionary next to you as you read Morrie's written editorials. Great characters, including a new look at the real Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Rider's assault on San Juan Hill in Cuba. Doig focuses on the people, and not the violence in the labor issues and I appreciate that.
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LibraryThing member karen_o
Sweet Thunder, the third in Ivan Doig's series set in early 20th century Montana, finds our favorite Montana transplant, Morrie Morgan, newly married and just returning from a year long honeymoon trip around the world at the tail end of 1920. Circumstances bring the newlyweds back to Butte where
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Morrie finds new ways of assisting the union cause and fighting against the powerful and far-reaching Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

Ever the clever wordsmith, Morrie's talents are put to use at the newly founded Butte newspaper, the Thunder, which pits itself editorially against the Anaconda controlled Butte Daily Post. As always we have a full cast of interesting characters and tricky situations for Morrie to either participate in or extricate himself from. Just for some of the latter, the book was worth reading for me.

Some reviewer called this book "history light" and that's fine because some days, that's just how I like my history. A visit with Morrie Morgan and company is always a pleasant way to learn a few things about Montana life.
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LibraryThing member ZachMontana
Great historical fiction of Butte in the days of Anaconda Company rule. Main character is a newspaper writer specializing in Editorial views on a newspaper fighting the owned newspaper of Anaconda company and fighting for the miners. Another excellent Ivan Doig masterpiece.
LibraryThing member rongeigle
I'm a fan of Ivan Doig and thought that Whistling Season was near a masterpiece. But Sweet Thunder doesn't measure up, despite often being quite entertaining and deftly written. The characters, the plot, the circumstances often seem slightly contrived. That said, it is a fun read, very lighthearted.
LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
Couldn't get into this tale of union - vs - copper bosses in 1920s Montana, centered around a pro-union newspaper.

Sounds good, I know -- that's why I swapped for it. But the narrative voice is really annoying and the characters (usually a strength for Doig) were flat and lifeless.


Maine Readers' Choice Award (Longlist — 2014)




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