The word “union” stems from the idea of joining things or people together, yet in the time period where Orchard: A Novel by Jack H Bailey takes place, the union is what’s causing everything to be torn apart. Death worked overtime in the mining towns of the day, but sometimes he got a little help from a man by the name of Harry Orchard.
Bailey takes the reader back to those boomtown days where the average man’s skin was tougher than leather and in the coal towns his lungs were black as night. The idea of fair pay for the dangerous work of extracting the coal from the ground was in constant flux and the mine owners were not inclined to flow right alongside.
That’s where the unions came in. Bonding the workers together from town to town and even state to state, they had power in numbers. But sometimes that power was still not enough and people like Harry Orchard were called in to remove those people who stood in the unions path.
Orchard is a classic anti-hero in the sense that he does horrible things for money, but in the eyes of many he’s helping a just cause. Miners and their entire families were starving to death in droves due to the pittance they received at the end of the week, so maybe the few deaths at the hands of Orchard saved dozens on the brink. For some it’s just pure math.
Yet where Bailey really claws in is the dynamic between Orchard and Charles Siringo, a Pinkerton officer assigned to hunt Orchard down and take him in. Protagonist and antagonist find themselves in a dance of danger and mutual respect with the music changing tempo without warning.
Capping off the mountain of captivating details in the story, the biggest of them all is that Harry Orchard was a real person. A real killer, after his capture he confessed to the murders of seventeen people, including the former Governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, which is the act that finally brought an end to his streak. Bailey weaves fact and fiction together with ease and leaves the reader wondering which is which.
Orchard: A Novel is rich with the dust and death of a time period long left behind, one that I am most certainly glad I didn’t live through.