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Bookends: Obsessions lead to bad ends in Gold Rush adventure February 5, 2015

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Bookends: Obsessions lead to bad ends in Gold Rush adventureGold Mad

By Dan Davidson

July 15, 2014

– 930 words –

 

Gold Mad

By

MW Books

291 pages

$24.95

 

It’s hard to warm to a book when the central characters are essentially unlovable bastards, and that is a serious problem that Gold Mad has. It’s clear that the author wants us to realize that obsessions of any kind can lead to horrible behavior, but it would be nice to have some hope of redemption somewhere in the story. There is some – but it’s not in their lives.

The cover blurb calls Gold Mad “a thriller from the greatest gold rush in history”. I’m not sure it could live up to that billing. It is an adventure story, right enough, and there is tension among humans as well as a struggle with the environment, but both Pat Parrot and Isaac Fayne seem to have very little idea of how abnormal their morality is.

We meet Parrot first, and it’s pretty clear from the beginning that he is an amoral character who is unable to see any point of view but his own. In 1894 he’s working in a mine in Northern California, caught in a tunnel collapsed by a small earthquake. He survives this and we catch up with him a few years later committing mayhem in an upscale brothel in San Francisco. For what happens there he goes to jail but is sprung by some wealthy investors looking to cash in on the findings in the Klondike.

After that opening sequence in 1894, we went straight to Rabbit Creek, where we meet three men whose full names are not given, through the two natives are called Jim and Charlie, and the three of them have recently had a run-in with a fellow named Henderson.

On August 16 the three of them find gold. Most historians now attribute the find to Skookum Jim, but Maser has followed Carmack’s tale, which would lead him to post the Discovery Claim the next day, signing it G.W. Carmacks.

We never see these three again as we slip back to San Francisco and events in the lives of Parrot, some brothel ladies and assorted newspaper scoundrels. By about the middle of the book Parrot, Fayne and some other people we have met briefly are all aboard a decrepit vessel called the Onyx, One chapter later our two principal players are thrown off the boat as it lurches during high seas and they wash up on Cape Beulah, somewhere on the British Columbia Coast

Whether the name is an actual designation, or just the one given it by its inhabitants is unclear. There are a lot of Beulah Land references in various hymns. The word means “married” but it seems always to refer to a sort of heaven on earth, and that’s just where the white settlers who find the castaways seem to think they are living. The miner and the scientist have run aground in the midst of a people who care for neither gold nor science. They came to Beulah to get away from the tawdry materialism of the last 19th century, and the only learning they need is that which will help them run their little agricultural commune, well away from the civilization they loathe and fear.

Fayne and Parrot are square pegs in the round holes of this society. When they have recovered some of their health they pursue the same goals as before. Parrot hunts for gold. Fayne seeks to discover something about the lives of the strangely absent indigenous people who used to live on the cape. Each has his own definition of what will bring him fame and fortune, and each poses a threat to the community that has saved him.

Parrot’s is the more brutal threat, and he deflowers a local young woman named Hilda to slake his lust, although she seems to keep this hidden from the others. If he finds what he is looking for, hordes of prospectors will descend on the cape.

Fayne’s is a more refined threat, but no less ugly in its arrogance. He would despoil the area of native artifacts, if he can find any, leave and come back with a full anthropological survey crew.

Neither man thinks beyond his obsession, and the success of either of them would obliterate the communal peace of the little settlement. The longer they remain on Beulah the worse is their fit there, and it’s only a matter of time before something pushes either them or their hosts over the edge.

This is why I found the word “thriller” a less than accurate description of the novel. That Parrot and Fayne will come to bad ends seems inevitable. Parrot is that way from the beginning. Fayne seems, at first, to be someone who might turn out to be a positive character, but once his particular madness takes hold of him he becomes much like Parrot, though in his own way.

“I worked all over the Yukon, including all around Dawson, in different intervals between 1975 – 1984,” Michael Maser tells me. “My gold prospecting also took me all over northern California and Ontario.”

Since then he has been journalist with a focus on education and resources, with articles appearing in the Georgia Straight, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Courier, Ottawa Citizen, Adbusters, BC Business and Business in Vancouver. His great-grandfather, Alexander Lyon, was a Scotsman who abandoned his family to go for Klondike gold in 1898. Later on, he founded the town of Hardy Bay, which is now Port Hardy.

 

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