Overview taken from author’s website: San Francisco, 1949. The battered body of a lovely young socialite has been unearthed in a secret grave on Mt. Tamalpais. The crime is all the more shocking because the victim’s father, Paul Brady, is the most powerful Irish-American attorney in the city. When his son-in-law, a member of the equally powerful Italian-American Panforte family, is accused of the murder, the wheels are set in motion for one of the most gripping trials in the history of the city.
In All Sins Remembered, Phil Ryan brilliantly traces the immigrant history of San Francisco to bring a deeper understanding of the two prominent families that suddenly find themselves under criminal investigation. Going back in time to the events that shaped the city from its founding – including the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, the formation of the Bank of America, and the birth of the San Francisco Opera Company – Ryan provides a fascinating historical backdrop to explain why the murder of Paula Brady Panforte might have been a tragically inevitable event.
This novel is really hard to define. In fact, it started out with a chunk of what I initially thought was back story. I found myself wondering when the author was going to get to the real story. Then we get to the issue at hand which is the murder of Paula Panforte and subsequent trial of her husband Robert for the crime. I thought this beginning would be the end of the back story but it wasn’t.
Throughout the novel, the back story continues. It also skips around in time a lot. The author was smart enough to type it in italics so I always knew we were going to the past but not always to the same time. Years could pass between one back story episode to another and sometimes it was sandwiched in between an event in the story’s present time (for most of the novel this was the year 1949).
I found my way but I kept wondering how these trips to the past were necessary. In my opinion many of them were not. These things were either conveyed well-enough in present tense dialogue or just didn’t seem relevant to the story at hand. And the book is 449 pages long! I have nothing against long books but I keep wondering if it might not have worked better to tell this story in two books rather than one. I thought that the back story could have stood on its own as first part in a series. Well, maybe not all of it, but some it could have I think.
I did like the story. It was unique and intriguing. Of course I love a novel with great Italian characters and this one had that and more. The history of San Francisco made a great backdrop and I can see how learning all of this might have inspired the author to get a little carried away with the back story. Though I wasn’t sure that the back story was always necessary, I did enjoy reading it. I am hoping I can learn something from this author’s use of it from my own novel which also takes place near San Francisco in the same decade.
It was obvious that the author took great pains to make everything in his tale seem as authentic as possible. The only thing I wondered about was the language and speech of the other characters. The dialogue had a lot of swear words and was at times sexually explicit. I am not an expert on this time period but people I know who lived through it told me that people were generally more innocent and less likely to use four-letter words. This novel seems to suggest otherwise and it made me doubt its authenticity. I don’t know if San Francisco was an exception to this rule but I highly doubt it.
To sum up, I am recommending this with some reservations. If you are offended by foul language and sexually explicit dialogue you might be better off avoiding this one. But if you can get past that, you might find the historical side as well as the CSI in the style of 1949 interesting.
Contains: foul language, sexually explicit dialogue and scenes as well as murder violence.
Below is a clip of the author talking about his experiences as both a lawyer and an author. It is a little long but you might find it interesting. And is it just me, or does the voice over interviewer sound like a robot?