Her Grandmother never talked much about the past, in Ireland or in Chicago, but Burns learned that she had lived in the city during those hot July days that began with a dirigible crashing into a downtown Chicago bank, and ended with the most deadly of the race riots that occurred in twenty-five U.S. cities that year. As she scrolled through the microfilm containing old newspapers, Burns thought, this has to be a novel.
Her first person character, Maeve Curragh, who comes from Ennis just as Burns’s grandmother did and may have some other things in common with her, works at the Chicago Magic Company in the grand Marquette Building and happens to have been on an errand to the bank just before the dirigible fell. Another Clare notable, Eamon de Valera, was also visiting Chicago that week, but no doubt navigating higher levels of society than Maeve, who becomes smitten with a streetcar conductor, Desmond Malloy.
“It’s all in the power to make people believe,” Maeve’s boss, the magician Mr. R frequently tells his small staff. Coming from a culture rich with superstitions, and having been born at the hour that she was sets up Maeve for wonder and possibility.