A Good Man

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"[Vanderhaeghe is] the best all-round novelist at work in Canada today. . . A Good Man is the kind of impeccably crafted, Dickensian charmer we have come to expect from Vanderhaeghe. . . . Remarkable . . . Deeply satisfying . . . Vanderhaeghe's descriptions of the natural world [are] often as striking as Cormac McCarthy's. . . . A towering achievement worthy of celebration as loud as our humble voices can declare."—The Globe and Mail

Best-selling author Guy Vanderhaeghe’s final ...

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A Good Man

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"[Vanderhaeghe is] the best all-round novelist at work in Canada today. . . A Good Man is the kind of impeccably crafted, Dickensian charmer we have come to expect from Vanderhaeghe. . . . Remarkable . . . Deeply satisfying . . . Vanderhaeghe's descriptions of the natural world [are] often as striking as Cormac McCarthy's. . . . A towering achievement worthy of celebration as loud as our humble voices can declare."—The Globe and Mail

Best-selling author Guy Vanderhaeghe’s final installment in his frontier trilogy is at once a riveting account of personal and historic revenge, and the endearing story of an unlikely love affair.

Wesley Case, a former soldier and the son of a Canadian lumber baron, sets out into the untamed borderlands between Canada and the United States to escape a dark secret from his past. He settles in Montana where he hopes to buy a cattle ranch, and where he begins work as a liaison between the American and Canadian militaries in an effort to contain the Native Americans’ unresolved anger in the wake of the Civil War. Amid the brutal violence that erupts between the Sioux warriors and U.S. forces, Case’s plan for a quiet ranch life is further compromised by an unexpected dilemma: he falls in love with the beautiful, outspoken, and recently widowed Ada Tarr. It’s a budding romance that soon inflames the jealousy of Ada’s quiet and deeply disturbed admirer, Michael Dunne. When the American government unleashes its final assault on the Indians, Dunne commences his own vicious plan for vengeance in one last feverish attempt to claim Ada as his own.

Vanderhaeghe expertly weaves a gritty account of the end of the Wild West with an intimate tale of love, retribution, and rebirth. Beautifully imagined and deeply moving, A Good Man is Vanderhaeghe’s triumphant conclusion to his venerated turn-of-the-century epic.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A brisk western turns introspective in Vanderhaeghe’s (The Last Crossing) latest when a rich Canadian man’s son tries to make good as a rancher in the Montana Territory only to have the locals turn against him. Rather than work for the Canadian government, Wesley Case spurns his father’s wishes and uses the last of his military pay to buy a ranch outside Fort Benton, in 1876 a rough frontier town facing a looming Sioux uprising after Custer’s last stand. From his new home, Wesley is well positioned to relay military information between Major Walsh, his old Canadian commander, and Major Ilges, the head of Fort Benton. In time, he crosses paths with the charming, outspoken Ada Tarr, the bored wife of a crooked frontier lawyer, and comes across old foe Michael Dunne, a Canadian farm boy who made good by spying on Civil War collaborators. Michael makes his living trading information in Fort Benton—and also admires Ada—and greatly resents Wesley’s intrusion. The collision of lives on the harsh edge between the wild and the settled, slow to unspool, finally pays dividends as Wesley finds himself torn between the community he’s invested in and a world he outwardly spurns but uses to his advantage. This tension draws out a potentially tedious journey of paper-shuffle politics into a cohesive high-stakes drama. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Vanderhaeghe's The Last Crossing was a BookSense 76 selection, an IMPAC Dublin literary award nominee, and a multi-award winner in Canada; The Englishman's Boy won the Governor General's Award and the Saskatchewan Book Award. Both were Canadian best sellers, and they set the stage for this final book in a trilogy set along the U.S.-Canadian border after the Civil War. Wesley Case, son of a Canadian timber baron, looks for a quiet life as a cattle rancher in Montana but instead finds himself caught between Native Americans and the U.S. and Canadian militaries. He's also caught between the feisty widow he's fallen for and her other, less rational suitor. Not just for devotees of Westerns.
Kirkus Reviews
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.
Ron Charles
A fine-looking western just rode into town from up North, and you'd best take notice if you know what's good for you…Vanderhaeghe manages [the] various story lines with agility, filling in historical detail without losing speed, jumping from one line to another without losing us and finally drawing them all together without losing his credibility…But what makes A Good Man so captivating is the way Vanderhaeghe draws us through this complicated puzzle of international and racial conflicts while keeping his story grounded in the intimate lives of ordinary people.
—The Washington Post
The Barnes & Noble Review

A Good Man is the final volume in Guy Vanderhaeghe's trilogy of novels set on the Northern Great Plains of the 1870s, along the border of the United States and Canada. The three books engage with actual and, for the most part, terrible historical events, finding much of their story in the intentions and actions of real historical figures. The first, The Englishman's Boy, is peopled in part by the American white and mixed-race wolfers who crossed the border into Canada in 1873 and committed the Cypress Hills Massacre, slaughtering at least twenty-three Assiniboine Indians. The second, The Last Crossing, gives a role to the famous scout and hunter Jerry Potts, a virtuoso of Plains lore and languages, Indian and white. The present novel has the most illustrious cast of all, including Sitting Bull, a number of other Indian leaders, and a couple of key Canadian and U.S. military officers.

The novel opens in July 1876, less than a month after Custer's defeat at the Battle of Little Bighorn. This shocking reversal of U.S. military might in the West has left settlers terrified, many of them abandoning their farms and ranches to camp outside forts. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army continues to harry and starve American Indians, a craving for revenge now added to the goal of forcing them onto reservations. The escalating hostilities in the Montana Territory have presented the Canadian government with a big headache and a twofold objective: to discourage Native Americans from fleeing into Canada and to prevent those who do cross over from using Canada as a base of operations for attacking the United States. To fail in this, as one Canadian high governmental official points out, is to "provide an excuse for the American Army to deal with the problem, not on their soil, but ours?. This cannot be allowed to happen. When Americans pay a visit, they have a habit of staying. Think of California, New Mexico, Arizona, all lost to Mexico. There are still plenty of annexationists in Congress looking forward to relieve us of territory."

The relations between Canada and her overmighty southern neighbor are further complicated by anti-British Fenians, many in the U.S. Army: Irish partisans who would like nothing better than to put some hurt on the British Dominion of Canada. All these, plus the hatred seething in the bosoms of veterans of the vanquished Confederate Army, come together here.

But what of the story? The action takes place chiefly between Fort Benton in Montana, which is under the command of the German- American Major Guido Ilges, and Fort Walsh, in what is present-day Saskatchewan, where Major James Walsh, a man sympathetic to the Indians' grim plight, is in charge. The two officers, ordered by their respective governments to prevent violence in a territory drenched in anger, desperation, and fear, cannot stand each other. Walsh, especially, is a problem. He has little taste or talent for the meeching role of the diplomat, flying off the handle when tact is required and priding himself for doing so. Enter the book's main fictional character, Wesley Case, the alienated son of one of Ottawa's wealthy, hard-nosed political insiders. When we meet Case, who long ago rejected the career in politics his father had intended for him, he is quitting the North-West Mounted Police at Fort Walsh to become a rancher near Fort Benton. He reluctantly accepts the frustrating job of running interference between Ilges and Walsh.

Forsaking the Mounted Police to become a rancher is not the first change of course for Case. He has tried journalism, architecture, and, as a young man, membership in a militia, from which he was expelled in disgrace over a deed committed in battle. This act, the tragic details of which we only gradually learn, caused his fiancée to dump him. Now, some ten years later, Case falls in love with an unhappily married woman, Ida Tarr. The ups, downs, and repercussions of this affair — threatened by the menacing presence of a competitor for Tarr's hand, a brutal hit man named Michael Dunne — constitute an absorbing and suspenseful part of the plot, yet all that pales before Vanderhaeghe's development of Case's and Walsh's predicaments of conscience and dilemmas of duty in the face of the Realpolitik crushing the Native American population on either side of the border.

Wesley Case is sickened by the sort of political maneuvering at which his father is adept but has, nonetheless, absorbed his unsentimental view of the world, the view shared by most white people of the time. It is just a fact to him that the Indians' tenure on the land is finished, that they will be moved to reservations, and that he will profit. Further, he brings a jaded, disparaging eye to Sitting Bull, who with other tribal leaders has found refuge at Fort Walsh.

If Major Walsh's view of things is more sympathetic than Case's, it cannot be called realistic: He is a romantic. Musing to himself on what it would have been like had he been born a Sioux fifty years ago, he contemplates its joys: "A bellyful of fresh-killed meat, a skirmish now and then to keep the blood from going mouldy, a life on the back of a horse. Go off to some spot in the wilderness and dream up your own religion. Each man his own parson. Each man his own boss." Instead, he is lumbered with obligations that put him in conflict with both his conscience and the authorities. As commander of Fort Walsh, he has the power to offer relief to refugee Indians, but as commander he is also bound by the orders of his superiors. Their goal is to cooperate with the United States in getting these Indians moving south to the barren reservation to which — in the U.S. government's infinite bad faith — they've been reassigned.

It is certain that trust exists between Walsh and Sitting Bull — a fact that gradually dawns on Case — but it is just as certain that circumstances will lead to the betrayal of this trust. The working-out of this sad business, projected from a number of points of view, is heartbreaking, and Vanderhaeghe's descriptions of the Plains and the life there are stunning. Finally, in its melding of character, plot, and history, A Good Man is an extraordinary novel, unquestionably the trilogy's crowning achievement.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle.

Reviewer: Katherine A. Powers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802120045
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/3/2012
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Guy Vanderhaeghe was born in Saskatchewan in 1951. He is the author of six books of fiction, including The Englishman’s Boy, which won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Saskatchewan Book Award for Fiction and for Best Book of the Year; and the bestseller, The Last Crossing, a Book Sense 76 Selection and winner of Canada Reads 2004 and the CBA Libris Award for Best Fiction Book of the Year.

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Customer Reviews

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