Set around the War of 1812, this debut novel focuses on the travels of a British spy.
Decore (The Campfire Gourmet, 1997), a retired trial lawyer from Edmonton, Alberta, builds a vivid fictional story around the life of David Thompson (1770-1857), a renowned British-Canadian explorer and mapmaker who was part owner of the fur-trading Northwest Company. In the early 1800s, there was rising concern that American John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company intended to establish a fort in Oregon Territory, which would give it exclusive trading rights and pave the way for an American takeover. The British government feared that American agents among Astor’s men might try to steal Thompson’s maps and logs—and even kill Thompson, if necessary; Decore’s fictional protagonist, British army Capt. William Ashford, is sent to ensure that this won’t happen. Summoned to London in early 1810, the promising young soldier is tasked with accompanying Thompson on a canoe journey on Canada’s Columbia River. He’ll be an undercover “information officer,” with only Thompson aware of his true identity. The maps that result from the journey will be shared by the crown and the Northwest Company. Among the mostly French-Canadian crew are two Iroquois brothers, Ignace and Charles, who befriend Ashford. Decore brings the voyage to life by offering plentiful description of such acts as making pemmican and riding toboggans. Immersive details about meals, camping, hiking, and attire make it easy to picture the explorers’ day-to-day activities. The chapters are snappy, with extra information provided in characters’ correspondence, rendered in boldface type. After the War of 1812 starts, the author tends to rely on quick historical overviews rather than imagined scenes, which makes the narrative feel somewhat dry. However, a late scene at the Bladensburg Races battle is a highlight, as is Ashford’s hand-to-hand combat with a person who ordered his assassination. There are occasional punctuation and typographical errors (such as the use of the word “decent” in place of “descent”) as well as dialogue that feels anachronistic: “How in the world did you pull that off?” But all in all, this is an atmospheric and convincing adventure story.
An often vivid account of British-Canadian partnership and espionage.