The Butcher on Colfax Ave

J.T. Tierney

Publisher: Curtiss Street Pages: 350 Price: (paperback) $14.99 ISBN: 9798990417151 Reviewed: June, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Despite a title that suggests slasher fiction, J.T. Tierney’s The Butcher on Colfax Ave is, in fact, an engrossing historical novel about young Irish immigrants chasing the American Dream in turn-of-the-century Colorado.

Emmett Kelly and Tom Quinn meet Alice and Nora Butler, two sisters from Galway, on the train to Denver in 1890. They’re all seeking better opportunities in the bustling boomtown. At only 21 years of age, Emmett has already spent six years at an Armour meatpacking plant in Chicago, and Tom, a carpenter, knows “wood butchers” are in high demand. But even as the foursome find employment—and amusement in each other’s company—there’s an undercurrent of danger ahead. When an explosive argument between Emmett and Tom turns violent, dreams are shattered—and must be built anew in drastically altered circumstances.

Like the masterful world building in Ken Follett’s Pillars of Earth, The Butcher on Colfax Ave gives readers a “you are there” feel for events—from the economic Panic of 1893 to the Spanish flu pandemic—and for the daily lives of those swept up in them. The author, a retired professor of American government, writes in a breezy but confident style about everything from why telephone companies preferred to hire girls (tall ones) to how folks reacted to the newfangled idea of customers gathering their own groceries rather than having clerks fetch them: “Wouldn’t that be chaos?” In Tierney’s hands, even a debate about taxation on oleomargarine is good reading.

Amusing period slang and snappy dialogue will appeal to a general audience, as when one character warns another: “you’re swingin’ at a wasp nest with a real short stick here.”

There are occasional typographical errors, and some chapters are so brief as to feel expository. Readers might also wish for more clarity concerning the timeline.

But these can be easily overlooked in an otherwise enlightening and enjoyable book.

BlueInk Heads-Up: Denver-region librarians may wish to consider stocking this book; local readers will enjoy many references to streets, buildings and “new” institutions that are still standing.

Author's Current Residence
Downers Grove, Illinois
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