Jess Walter's new novel brings Spokane's rambunctious early 1900s to vivid life

click to enlarge YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo

Fans of Jess Walter's best-selling Beautiful Ruins and his genre-hopping catalog will find a lot to love in his new novel The Cold Millions. In fact, residents of the Inland Northwest will likely have a strong affinity for the largely Spokane-set action in the trip through our region's turbulent history in the early 1900s.

The Cold Millions takes place mostly over the course of just a few weeks as the scrappy itinerant workers of a nascent labor movement and the region's wealthy corporate overlords (and their supporting police department) clashed — on the streets, in the newspapers, even in Walter's characters' bedrooms. It's a blend of fact and fiction, and a ripping read full of dirty cops and hitmen, sexy stage actresses and shady club owners, heroic idealists and disturbing double-crossers — all of them trying to make a go of it in Spokane when it was a boomtown in transition.

Montana brothers Gig and Rye Dolan show up in Spokane looking for work, only to be swept up in a series of labor protests, and a police investigation into an officer murdered while looking into burglaries in the posh Cannon Hill neighborhood. While Gig is stuck in jail as one of the protests' alleged instigators, Rye finds himself released and suddenly caught up trailing famed 19-year-old activist and pioneering feminist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, barnstorming the region from Missoula to Seattle to raise money for the labor cause. All the while Rye is trying to figure out how to get Gig out of jail, a pursuit that leads him to interact with mining magnates, hired thugs and an exotic dancer, Ursula the Great, best known for using a live cougar in her act.

If you're familiar with Walter's work, you know you're going to get beautifully written prose with more than a dash of laugh-out-loud humor, and that's certainly the case with The Cold Millions. What you'll also get, though, is a glimpse into Spokane history that you probably were never taught in school if you grew up in the area, and perhaps never heard about at all if you didn't. It's not pure history, of course, but Walter's research into that era of Spokane history brings The Cold Millions to vivid life, making it a page-turner you never want to end.

The Cold Millions is available starting Oct. 27; preorder from Auntie's Bookstore (auntiesbooks.com).

Spokane Watercolor Society 2020 Open Juried Show: Visions in Watercolor @ Community Building

Mondays-Saturdays, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Continues through Oct. 28
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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...