Thunder on the Mountain: A Novel of 1936 (Hemlock County)

Written by David Poyer
Review by Steve Lewis

The “Thunder” of the titles can be explained in at least different ways. (1) Thunder Oil of Pennsylvania, a family dynasty under the control of its third owner, Daniel Thunner, as of 1936. (2) The nitroglycerine used judiciously in helping drillers blast their wells down into the oil-bearing rock of that same state. (3) The rumblings of the growing labor union movement, stirred into action by a huge fatal accident, and the company’s apparent indifference to the well being of its workmen.

Guiding the men who risk everything they have and own are the crusading labor organizer par excellence, Diane Gurley Golden (the outsider), and W. T. “Red” Halverson (the reluctant insider) recently promoted to foreman, but a man pushed into standing up for the rights of others.

In the days when 13 cents an hour was considered high wages, labor unions were considered by the wheelers and dealers of the day to be instruments of the devil, true anathema, and probably Communist-instigated. The legendary John L. Lewis (no relation, so far as I know) has a minor but still key role to play in the story that unfolds, as does the President’s lady, Eleanor Roosevelt herself. (There were strata of American society that regarded Franklin as perhaps Satan himself.)

The stakes are high, and if you have any sympathy for the “working man” at all, I guarantee that you’ll find yourself being not-so-subtly sucked into the intrigue and incipient violence that result. These were the days of revolution that don’t get their fair share of coverage in today’s history books; more’s the pity. There were giants in those days, and Poyer’s book brings a few of them back to life.