John Byrne Cooke. The Committee of Vigilance: A Novel of Gold Rush San Francisco (1994) 559 pp. [pbo]
Author’s description: “San Francisco, 1856: During the early boom of the California Gold Rush, the city’s merchants organized a committee of vigilance to halt what they called an unchecked wave of crime. They hanged four men and banished others on pain of death, then disbanded. Now, five years later, when the reorganized Committee issues a call for volunteers, citizens flock by the thousands to its standard to take up arms once more. Jason Beck finds himself and his ship held hostage by the crisis as business comes to a standstill. He takes lodging at Sarah Rockwell’s boardinghouse and meets the other residents: Joshua Norton, a failed merchant who lost everything in a high-risk scheme to corner the market in flour; Thomas Trelayne, an innovative theatrical manager; and Molly Gray, the leading lady on Trelayne’s stage and in his private life. Within days, the city becomes an armed camp. The municipal and state authorities are powerless to oppose the vigilantes. When a shocking crime threatens everything Jason Beck has worked for, he turns to the Committee of Vigilance for justice, but soon he finds himself torn between his desire for revenge and the love of a remarkable woman who opposes the Committee and everything it stands for.”
Setting: San Francisco (1856)