5 OUT OF 5 STARS: A Terrific Ride! By Bruce Haines, January 27, 2012

Ruined City Hall

This review is from: The COPPER-HANDLES AFFAIR: The Great San Francisco Earthquake, Fire and Bank Heist by John Patrick Legry (Paperback) Amazon.com.

John Legry starts his book with nothing less than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and uses it as a springboard for a robbery and chase that leads us North through California, into Oregon, Washington, and beyond. Along the way the thief, John Law Copper, is followed by the clever and resourceful Frederick Handles, Policeman, who tears himself away from his home and city in crisis and a loving wife, to travel through the wilds of the West Coast, in pursuit of a considerable amount of cash taken from a bank partially destroyed and laid open by the earthquake and then coincidentally found by the wily Mr. Copper.

Beyond the chase and Mr. Copper’s narrow escapes, we are treated to an astonishingly well-researched description of real West Coast towns found along the route as Mr. Copper flees his pursuer through places we know from the dust of memory and old photographs. The writer puts us in these myriad locales, vivid and detailed in the reader’s eye to the degree we feel we’re not only being treated to a first-rate bank robbery/chase story, we are also privy to a sociological and anthropological narrative that brings the early part of the century stunningly to life.

Along the way, Mr. Handles meets corruption at every turn, especially in the very people he must depend upon for help, the lawmakers he meets and from whom he is forced to ask favors. Mr. Handles is so straight-laced and stiff; he’s almost a metaphor for Diogenes who searched in vain for an honest man. Slowly, from the stiff, inflexible and duty-bound Detective Handles, we find a deep faith in humanity and the expectation that right will prevail, and when people he relies upon fail him, the blow is breathtaking. He’s so much expecting people of position to do the right thing, when they don’t, the reader feels so sorry for the disappointed Mr. Handles, one can’t help but develop a fond respect for his own downfall when he falls in love with a woman in whose boarding-house care he is forced to remain while she nurses him through a life-threatening disease. He is human after all.

Mr. Copper is a scallywag Irishman. One soon becomes accustomed to his speaking in his brogue – a mangy mutt, rude, witty, coarse and surprisingly creative with little respect for authority; a product of hard knocks and anti-Irish sentiment common at the time. (In New York it was ordinary to see signs in store windows “Help Wanted! No blacks, Jews or Irish”). Word was, there was no such thing as an honest Irishman. Mr Copper raises that unfortunate stereotype to an art form with his ingenious and clever quick wits and winning ways. He’s so likable and charming in his manipulations of the people and tricky situations he encounters, you can’t help but root for the bugger.

The chase leads us through some dangerous places and real events in history that are vivid in memory and often painful to recall, such as the brutal and open murders of anyone Chinese in the town of Eureka, California.

The pace of the writing hits the ground at high speed and hardly lets up. This reader found “The Copper-Handles Affair” to be a page-turner as good and winning as any book in recent memory. The writing style is fresh and exciting; taking us on an incredible journey through a rough time in history when leaving “The City” was often also leaving behind not just civilization, but also civility. The unexpected well-balanced plot, fascinating characters, and exceptional good writing produce a suspenseful narrative that measures up to the best writers around today. I liked many of the characters so much; I miss them after having finished the book. John Legry is a very gifted writer: intelligent, amusing and a fine storyteller with a rare gift for finding irony and absurdity.

Gentlemen's Car

from Chapter One.

1:         Copper. San Francisco, April 18, 1906, 5:00 a.m.

It’s early mornin’ and I’m walkin’ up the bricks to Market Street. Loudest sounds is Da’s clunky squeakin’ two-wheeled pushcart and me boots on the pavin’. Bloody dumb damn cart swayin’ in me face; I’m the bloody dumb damn donkey harnessed in the poles behind it. Me mouth tastes o’ whiskey and smoke from last night. Where is that cigar stub? Shirt pocket? Ah, I feel it. Smoke that later.

Where the hell did Da’ say I was goin’? Flood Buildin’. No, think. Merchant’s Exchange on Montgomery. Off to empty the trash bins filled the day before by the Titans o’ Commerce. They get all the gold and we get all the garbage. Ain’t it always an Irishman’s share?

Da’s right about gamblin’. Lost all night, nothin’ to show. Not a nickel, not a dime, not even carfare for poor John Law Copper. Gamblin’ is risky business.

Market Street. Turn right. Sky’s palin’ behind me, street lamps fadin’ out. Ferry Buildin’ blocks ahead, way down at the end o’ the street. I can see it peepin’ into the daylight. Wish I was goin’ to the Ferry Buildin’.

Goin’ to the Ferry Buildin’ and gettin’ on a ferry! I’d like to go over to Oakland today. Me and Suzy McMillan had a fine picnic there. Suzy give me the sweats. Wonder what she’s doin’ now? Married that office clerk Jack Somebody-or-other. Maybe I should ha’ married her. Naw. I’d rather fish than be caught.

Bloody dumb damn cart won’t hold straight! Fightin’ bloody bastard!

Damn, I’m smokin’ me cigar!

Where am I? Junction o’ Turk, Mason and Market. Slip the bloody harness off. Fumble the stub. Less than I recall. Heat o’ the match on me face makes me wish I was warm all over, it’s so chilly, and here’s a pleasant puff. I should really be a man o’ leisure, I got the taste for it, and it ain’t my fault for bein’ born indisposed.

Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank across the street. Columns and curlicues. There’s all the money in the world. If I had any, that’s where I’d keep it.

What’s that terrible sound? A deep rumblin’.

What the bloody hell is that?

Long, low moanin’!

Jesus Christ! The ground’s movin’!

2:         Monograph by Frederick W. Handles, Sr., Esq., Sergeant SFPD.

I am Frederick “Fred” W. Handles, Sr.

I am a native of San Francisco, California, the Golden State, born in that resplendent city in the Year of our Lord 1876. While the earliest years of my life are unremarkable (and shall therefore go unremarked), I must note that I joined the City Police Force in June 1896. Through hard work and loyalty, I had risen almost to the rank of Sergeant as this narrative begins.

As to the narrative, I am a simple policeman, ill at ease in the world of letters. However, friends and relations prevailed upon me to commit my views to print for the moral edification of youth (which task I take as bounden duty, since they – the youth – are the future, as others more notable have remarked).

John Law Copper (whose name is a misnomer, if ever there was one) was born on May 5th, 1880. This made him seventeen days short of his twenty-sixth birthday on April 18th, 1906. Later that year, the mad millionaire Harry K. Thaw jealously shot and killed noted bon vivant and architect Stanford White for a rumored dalliance with Thaw’s wife; Japanese seal poachers were killed in Alaskan waters; a group of hot-eyed Cubans staged an aborted revolution; and President Theodore Roosevelt went to Panama to look at the Big Ditch. It was a busy year, and I enumerate major events to underscore the triviality of what some call: “The Copper-Handles Affair”.

However, on April 18, 1906, the City of San Francisco had an earthquake. That is where John Law Copper was at 5:12 in the morning. That, also, is where I was, exactly at the corner of Davis and Washington streets where I was chatting with one Mr. Michael Ryan, a young Irish produce man. Yet, I precede myself, for my morning actually began earlier that fateful day. It was precisely…


The COPPER-HANDLES AFFAIR: The Great San Francisco Earthquake, Fire and Bank Heist by John Patrick Legry at Amazon.com. The great game of big money power politics and civic corruption on the Ragtime U. S. Pacific Coast, and an exciting chase through the vanished garden world of northern California to the dangerous shanghai town of Portland, Oregon, and beyond. 50 b&w line drawings and two maps.

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