A Dream of Steam by James W. Barry


Based on a true story about a sawmill’s fate from 1889, this reimagined historical fiction version includes romance, ships and desperados.

Comprised of four books, the novel builds steadily to a fever pitch at the end. The first book introduces a wide cast of characters.  Brothers William and Thomas McGrath own and operate a lumber business. Ambitious, headstrong William is in charge of the mill and happy-go-lucky, sea-faring Thomas moves the products on the ship Genevieve.  In 1891, they request a loan to modernize their business from a bank in Detroit run by Edgar Standish and son-in-law, John Fitzpatrick.  Fitzpatrick plays poker with thug union organizers and other violent types. Klara is a mail-order bride on her way to meet her future husband in Michigan when her ship capsizes and Thomas’ crew saves her.  Cedric Inch is an underhanded fellow lumberman. In the second book, the loan acquired, work begins on a new mill, although not without hiccups due to weather, recession, William’s romantic woes and a run-in with union thugs.  Fitzpatrick finds himself in debt to his card partners. Klara’s plans her escape from the husband who turns out not to be who he says he is. The threads begin to come together in book three as Fitzpatrick desperately uses the McGrath loan, among others, to try to get out of debt.  Klara, escaped, is again saved by the Genevieve crew, whom she meets in Sault Ste Marie.  In the final book, Fitzpatrick and Inch team up against the McGraths.  Klara endears herself to William with an innovative, if not conniving, retaliation plan.  The careful character development pays off when the rock-solid hero team, forward-looking William tempered by traditionalist Thomas, as well as can-do Klara and the humorous Genevieve crew, defeat villainous corporate interests in the form of Fitzpatrick and gang.  With lyrical phrasing, fitting of the time period, plus mechanical details and lots of physical exertion, the pacing balances description and action.  A helpful glossary of logging and nautical terms supplements the text.

History comes alive in the hands of this debut author, a sailor who restores ships for use in movies and museums.       

      Author website

Author: marilivtollefson

I teach and play violin when not reading and reviewing books. Thanks to indie authors for opening my world and sharing theirs! Find my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo, Midwest Book Review and BookPage, among others.

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