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Bookends: Obsession leads to tragedy in the Nahanni River country December 29, 2013

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Bookends: Obsession leads to tragedy in the Nahanni River country

By Dan Davidson

June 6, 2013

– 792 words –

 

Whisper of LegendsThe Whisper of Legends

DundurnBy Barbara Fradkin

394 pages

$17.99

 

Hannah Green picked the worst possible time to go traipsing off into the wilds of the Northwest Territories with her boyfriend and a couple of his friends. Well, it may not have been a bad time for her, but for her father it was terrible. When the foursome fail to check in regularly Inspector Michael Green begins to get worried,

Green’s relationship with Hannah, who is the child of his first, failed, marriage, is rocky, and he and his current wife are expecting their second child, but they both agree that he needs to go out to Nahanni and find out what has happened. Ex-wife Ashley, who Hannah lives with in Vancouver, concurs, loudly.

For city boy Green a rescue operation that turns into an extended canoe trip and mountain hike is more than a slight challenge, Fortunately he has one on his regular officers on the Toronto Police force, Brian Sullivan, who has bush experience, able to go with him. Also fortunately, as the case gets murky, he has a couple honeymooning on PEI that he can press into doing research on the members of the Hannah’s crew.

We know from chapter one that Hannah has suffered a concussion early in their trip, and that none of the three guys really seem to be taking that seriously. We also suspect, quite early on, that boyfriend Scott has more on his mind than a simple wilderness excursion.

When the quartet does drop off the map they are also lucky that Constable Chris Tymco, a flying Mountie based in Fort Simpson, takes an interest in their fate when a turquoise canoe is found abandoned on the river.

The lure of potential mining property does weird things to peoples’ minds. Just how weird and just how many people, are two of the things we discover as this case progresses, but the inclusion of a series of letters written in the 1940s between a trapper/prospector husband and his wife waiting for him in Whitehorse, soon clue us in that this is an intergenerational matter going back more than 60 years.

We only follow Hannah and company for about six pages right at the beginning of the book. After that we follow Green, Tymco and the newlywed Peters during the roughly three weeks it takes for the various searches to run their course. Green and Sullivan are on site, of course. Tymco is back and forth to Whitehorse, pursuing leads that point to this all having historic roots in the Yukon. The Peters are busy on the interweb and telephones, but also find some connections in the Maritimes.

Green is a struggling canoeist, out of his depth in the mountains, and badly worried as the evidence piles up that something bad may be happening to his daughter. He is not at his best for much of the book. When one of her crew turns up dead at the bottom of a cliff, he begins to panic, but at the same time his investigator’s instincts kick into gear, grounding his actions and making him increasingly useful as events move toward a confrontation. Even his Dené guide, who has done most of the tracking up to a point, tells him “You read the signs just like me. Just different signs.”

There is a sense in which the death is useful, in that it galvanizes the detachment in Fort Simpson, where the Sergeant has been dragging his feet, into authorizing action that has been grudging and intermittent up to that point.

I’m not familiar with the Nahanni area other than having read R.M. Patterson’s Dangerous River: Adventure on the Nahanni many years ago, and Pierre Berton’s account of his reporter’s trips there in My Times and The Mysterious North. Berton’s career took him there in search of another kind of obsession and I half-thought that’s where this book was going to go when I started it, but Fradkin found a more current obsession to mine for a story.

She credits Neil Hartling’s published work on the region with giving her a lot of the feel and facts that she needed to write about an area that she had never seen, and Hartling is the model for the outfitter, Ian Elliot, who assists Green during his foray into the wilderness.

Fradkin and her mystery writer buddy, Vicki Delany, are currently on their way to the Yukon via Yellowknife and will be speaking and reading at several places in Whitehorse between June 5 and 14, with side trips to Skagway, Haines Junction, Pelly Crossing and Dawson.

Delany’s last Klondike mystery, Gold Mountain, was reviewed here recently.

I interviewed them by Skype while they were in Yellowknife and will have that for you in these pages later on.

-30-

 

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