Local union attorney Susan Stoner has published the fifth in her series of closely-researched historical detective novels. The novels feature a fictional trade union spy, Sage Adair, but are based on real-life situations in the Portland, and Oregon, of the early 1900s. Dead Line, the latest installment, got a favorable review in the July 19 Sunday Oregonian. In it, Adair travels to Central Oregon to prevent a range war between cattle ranchers and sheep herders.
Prineville at the time was Central Oregon’s biggest economic powerhouse. The region was dotted with woolen mills, which were supplied by large herds of sheep that ended up devastating Eastern Oregon’s lush grasslands, producing today’s sagebrush prairie.
Stoner says she chose the early 1900s for her series in part because it’s a period that parallels the present: It was a time of great consolidation of wealth into the hands of a few, but also a time that gave birth to movements to stop that.
“I wanted to give people a connection to our past,” Stoner said at a July 23 reading at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne. “There’s a lot to discourage us now, but 100 years ago, they were facing even bigger obstacles, and yet they rose up and created a middle class the likes of which the world had never seen before.”
Stoner, a native Oregonian, retired in March after 24 years as staff attorney for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757.
The series starts with Timber Beasts, set amid the savage exploitation of loggers; followed by Land Sharks, which treats the subject of shanghaiing; Dry Rot, which details a true-to-life story of construction fraud that led to the collapse of a city bridge; and Black Drop, which explores white slavery and a fictional plot to assassinate President Theodore Roosevelt. She’s now in the early stages of work on a sixth novel, which will feature the struggles of women workers in Portland’s steam laundries.