The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig(see the blog post from 5/14/10) is aptly described as a "gem". Morrie Morgan, one of the main characters of both books, is among my favorite literary characters. Without revealing too many details of The Whistling Season, Morrie reappears a decade later in Butte, Montana where the story of Work Song begins. As America is recovering from World War I, this rough and ready copper-mining town is experiencing tremendous growth, "100,000 strong atop the earth's mineral crown." This would seem the ideal place for someone like Morrie Morgan to slip into obscurity--his last know location some where near Tasmania! But he's not sure if it's paranoia or are those "two bull-shouldered idlers" keeping an eye on him?
Not really suited for the physical rigors of mining, he takes the first means of employment offered to him at the C. R. Peterson Modern Mortuary and Funeral Home. Asked by his potential employer why he might be good for the job, Morrie wants to reply, because I have a strong stomach, but responds instead, "my funerary experience is not vast yet , but I have been fortunate enough to be observer of some historically solemn occasions." Morrie Morgan is a wordsmith, walking encyclopedia, and and bit of a prevaricator He becomes the "cryer" for the funeral home, attending the wakes of their "customers."
Finding this employment not to his liking, Morrie heads to the Butte Public Library to use The Polk directory to find potential employers, not expecting to find the "finest collection west of Chicago." "Too bad the town doesn't have the brains to match" bellows Samuel S. Sandison, bibliophile extraordinaire, ex-rancher with a questionable past, and now the town librarian. Morrie is soon employed by the library in many capacities, and despite his unpredictable boss, this is his dream job as a lover of books, words, and knowledge in general.
As in The Whistling Season, Doig introduces us to several memorable characters like Russian Famine, Grace, the lovely widowed landlady, and Rabrab, Barbara spelled backwards, a former pupil of Mr. Morgan's. There's something for everyone one -deceit, suspense, humor, kindness, and romance. Work song stands alone, but I would recommend reading The Whistling Season first. I hope that Mr. Doig is planning a third installment. I already miss Morrie Morgan.�