Watch the Hour
J. R. Lindermuth’s latest novel is a page-turning yarn of 19th-century Pennsylvania coal towns and the conflict between the mine owners and Irish immigrants over working conditions. Ben Yeager isn’t your ordinary Coal and Iron Police deputy sheriff. Dutiful son and brother, Ben believes in justice (although his job is to protect the interests of the mine owners), even for Sean McHugh, falsely accused murderer and brother of dead Molly Maguire organizer and thief, Danny McHugh. And Sean’s pretty daughter, Nora, loved by crippled Dylan Teague and lusted after by local priest, Father Delaney, and Nora’s employer, Clayton Dreiser. Complicating Ben’s sense of justice is Phoebe Llewellyn, daughter of C & I sheriff Rhys Llewellyn and granddaughter of miner magnate Samuel Mason, who he is being pressured to marry. Another complication is Jennie Teague, Dylan’s sister. Phoebe’s love for Ben assures him a comfortable place in life—if he marries her. His love for Jennie, however, threatens not only Ben’s future but Jennie’s life and that of Ben’s family. As Ben’s love for Jennie deepens, so also does Phoebe’s determination to have him. Willing to risk everything for Jennie, Ben tells her outraged family he won’t marry Phoebe even as word of Nora’s rape and murder breaks. Ben struggles to “[set] all things even” and thus restore order to the many disparate lives.
The historical background is well researched though not entirely convincing, particularly the intimation the Molly Macguires were criminals and thugs. The very poverty and desperation Lindermuth depicts argue a more nuanced view of the labor movement.