Prohibition Era Benicia, California-a major terminal on the Transcontinental Railroad where giant ferries carry 35 passenger trains a day across the Carquinez Strait, connecting Sacramento to Oakland and all points south; a five-mile strip of waterfront property populated by Chinese and Greek fishermen, Italian fruit farmers, Portuguese cannery and tannery workers, itinerant gypsies, and a small minority of Anglo-Americans who own the most valuable property and run the local government with graft and intimidation; a town of opposites where fires and floods are seasonal events, where Dominican nuns educate at one end of First Street and brothels at the other.
The characters and plot:
A one-armed African-American auto mechanic who adopts a run-away white boy and raises him to be the leader of a bootleg distribution ring; a deeply troubled woman who drives her doting millionaire husband to suicide and tries to murder her own children; a powerful and corrupt county supervisor who conspires to sabotage the first west coast Democratic National Convention; a ruthless bootlegger who hires Baby Face Nelson to murder law-enforcement officers and rival gang members; a talented young woman attorney who must defend the man accused of murdering her own father.
The historical background:
It was during Prohibition that George Santayana wrote: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." These words resonate in our own time as America's political leaders continue to push their agendas for "change."
The Prohibition Era (1919-1933) was also a time of change when new technologies like the electric light, the telephone, and the combustion engine transformed society worldwide; when broadcast radio and motion pictures began homogenizing America's cultural values; when the Scopes "monkey trail" challenged the basic precepts of religious tradition; and when Margaret Sanger's crusade for birth control and eugenics forecast some of the most compelling political issues of the 21st Century.
The central plot of Legends of the Strait involves two childhood friends growing up in a small California town. This novel is more than a coming-of-age story, though. It's about the growing pains of a nation suddenly thrust onto the world stage as a great power and about the "quiet desperation" of individuals struggling with a host of new cultural and economic changes as well as with the age-old conflict between good and evil. Like all legends, Legends of the Strait is a moral tale.