November 6, 2009 Volume 110 Number 21

Murder tale brings Northwest labor history back to life

For 10 years, union attorney Susan Stoner has had a secret: In between arbitrations and grievance-handling, she’s been moonlighting as mystery novelist S.L. Stoner.

Stoner — general counsel at Portland-headquartered Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 — worked in her free time to develop a series of historical mysteries set in the Portland of 1902. Now the first self-published installment is in print, and is garnering favorable reactions from local historians and labor history buffs.

Jim Strassmeier, longtime oral historian for the Oregon Historical Society, called it a “unique, genre-crossing novel” that “combines rousing adventure with accurate back-to-the-past details.”

The book, titled Timber Beasts: A Sage Adair Historical Mystery, is available at Portland-area Barnes & Noble stores, downtown Powell’s Books and online at and It’s the story of Sage Adair, a turn-of-the-century trade union spy, who stumbles across a real-life timber fraud, gets a glimpse at the savage exploitation of loggers, and helps track a murderer. In yet-to-be-published sequels, Adair investigates a shanghaiing, a series of bridge collapses, and an attempt to assassinate Teddy Roosevelt, who visited Portland May 21, 1903. Careful not to reveal plot points, Stoner answered questions about the book in an interview with the Northwest Labor Press.

What made you decide to write a historical mystery novel?
I love researching original history. That means reading diaries and letters and newspaper articles that were published at the time. And I’ve always been interested in labor history in particular. I wanted something that union members and working people could read to learn about their own role in history. Plus I love mystery novels. They’re an easy read and they’re entertaining.

Why did you choose 1902?
Because it really mirrors our time. On a national level we had corporate power starting to take over.

Are there particular works that you drew inspiration from, books you like and sought to emulate?
I’d have to say Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States, and then Zane Grey for his Western flavor.

To what extent are the events depicted real?
I tried really hard to make them all realistic. I mess a little bit with the times things occur. But I plagiarized history. So everything is based on something that actually happened. The description of a logging camp, the description of Chinatown … I tried to make everything authentic.

Why is it called Timber Beasts?
It’s a play on words. It was the name they gave itinerant workers in logging, and it was said with contempt. But when you start thinking about large corporations that made money off the decimation of the forests and people’s livelihoods, you see who the real beasts are.

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