A sprawling Western, in just the way that some of Cormac McCarthy’s novels are Westerns, by prizewinning Canadian author Vanderhaeghe (The Last Crossing, 2004, etc.).
The frontier, Canadian and American, was settled at least in part by children of privilege who rejected comfort for adventure. Wesley Case, the son of a timber baron, is one such chap: Not content to coast on the family’s millions (“So to hell with Father”), he’s joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to battle Irish Republican terrorists, French separatists and other enemies of order—not least of them unreconstructed Southerners bent on wreaking vengeful havoc on the Union, operating from Canadian sanctuaries. Wesley is of the Victorian age, but he’s a modern hero, doubtful and reserved, even as love interest Ada Tarr is surrounded by a shadow of hard-won wistfulness, “a sadness that looks back on the passing of things, the death of the very grass she walks on, the leaves withered on the bushes or tumbling along the ground in the breeze.” Most modernly, Ada is also married, which puts Wesley in a bind of the sort that Dudley Do-Right never imagined. Ada’s no Nell, but Wesley, no matter how conflicted, certainly is a force for the right. His journeys take him throughout the Canadian West and down into the wilds of Montana, where, not long before, George Custer’s command fell victim to Sitting Bull, who figures memorably in Vanderhaeghe’s closing pages. The book is sharply observed and rich in period details (“Hathaway is the only one in uniform, scarlet jacket and buff breeches, pillbox hat cocked on his head at a rakish angle”); moreover, it’s utterly believable while not being steeped in the orotund language or leisurely sentences of the time. If the story sometimes verges on the horse-operatic, it’s an entertaining and thoroughly well-written one.
Do the Mounties always get their man? Read this satisfying novel and find out.