House of Blazes, by Dietrich Kalteis

A wronged convict seeking revenge is not an uncommon one. What makes Dietrick Kalteis’s House of Blazes unusual are two details. First, Levi Hayes has terrible luck. Second, Levi Hayes has launched his plan to get back at the man who sent him to prison two days before the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Levi doesn’t know the clock is ticking, but we do. To be honest, I was counting down to the earthquake simply because Levi’s plan goes so awry that I thought the earthquake might put it out of its misery.

Levi Hayes, with the help of his nephew, Mack, and friends from before his stint in San Quentin, has hatched a plan to blackmail Marvin Healey. All Levi wants is the deed to his father’s old bar, the House of Blazes, where Levi secreted his stash from a Mint heist. Healey has connections with the rich and powerful of San Francisco and his brother, Quinn, is more than willing to bend the rules to help out. Being a police officer just makes it easier for Quinn to color outside the lines. The plan goes wrong pretty much immediately. Showing Marvin pictures of his wife in flagrante enraged him so much that Marvin kills a man and threatens to kill everyone he can lay his hands on until his wife shoots him in the head.

With the immediate target of his revenge out of the picture (and dropped into San Francisco Bay), Levi revises his plan to go after Healey’s widow and Quinn. He might have made it work except for his terrible luck. Plus, the Healey’s turn out to be a better class of criminal than Hayes. For two days before the earthquake, Levi and his nephew hustle around the Barbary, caught in one dicey situation after another. By the time the earthquake hits, the pair of them are sitting in a jail cell.

The first third of House of Blazes is a macabre comedy of the blackest stripe. People get beat up and killed left and right. The tone changes in the last two thirds as Quinn pursues Levi and Mack across a hellscape of flattened and burning buildings—which I enjoyed much more than the bizarrely over-the-top violence of the first part. Levi and Mack become more human as they stop to help people on their way out of town while Quinn becomes less human in his rush to get his hands on them. By the end, House of Blazes is a thrilling story of a revenge that gets derailed by a city-wide catastrophe.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 11 October 2016.


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