Choices are slim for Cayley Wallace in 1889, in the boomtown of San Francisco. When she takes an unexpected opportunity to serve drinks at a bar on Market Street, she causes an uproar in her conservative Irish neighborhood, triggers a brutal outburst by her husband, and takes the first step toward becoming the city's most notorious, wealthiest and outspoken Madame. Across town, a gentle Chinese scholar joins a tong and dives deeper into the violent world of warring factions in "Little China". Wo Sam's idealism and naivete lead him to dangerous and thoughtless acts; he becomes a pariah to both whites and Asians. These two outcasts find each other, creating a world for themselves and others who live beyond the strict boundaries of late Victorian society. But neither can ever be completely free: desperate attempts at "respectability", a badly chosen marriage, revenge, kidnapping, and a tragic murder shake up their lives. When San Francisco is broken and burned to the ground, can they hold on to what they've created? And can they hold on to each other in a world that strictly forbids any bond between them?
Shaketown is based on a real person, Theresa "Tess" Wall, who made the papers on a regular basis in the wide-open "Gilded Age" before the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. Wo Sam's story is a conglomeration of tales from my Chinese relatives and other stories of Chinese immigrants to "Gold Mountain" at the turn of the century. As the author of nine non-fiction books and a life-long resident of the San Francisco bay area, I felt compelled to tell this story: I think you'll find these characters, their friends and enemies as captivating as I did. Reviewers have dubbed Shaketown "a page-turner" and " a thrilling mix of history, lively characters, and a firecracker plot". Happy reading!