New Review: This rollicking romp across the prairies is not just a cool chase book...

Reviewed by: Jim Green
Swede’s Ferry Review (2013)

from Jim Green, freelance 

What we got here is a duster wherein the good guy is the bad guy, or mayhap t’other way around; the bad guy is a pretty good guy, who, that’s “Tall Bob” Simpson, whilst on leave from his day job as a North-West Mounted Policeman, holds up the First National Bank in Bismarck, North Dakota, in May 1894, accidentally leaving an angry bullet hole the Bank Manager’s forehead, gallops north to cross the Souris River on Swede’s Ferry, hightails her back across the line to Canada as fast as his fleet chestnut horse with three white stockings and a bullet grazed rump will carry him, stops by to visit his ailing Mom in Brandon, and then dekes back to Regina to hunker down and lay low in Mountie headquarters. 

I don’t reckon it makes no never mind that I know Allan Safarik but I thought I’d get “full disclosure” out of the way right off the bat. He’s a friend. He published my first book. I like him. There. And I’ve known him for forty some years and always savoured his poetry but I didn’t know he knew a diddley squat about which end of a horse the fodder goes in. Reckon he does.

James J. Hill, President of the newly empty First National Bank in Bismarck, also owned the Great Northern Railway, whose payroll turns up missing from said bare bank. Hill was pissed off. He calls in head honcho of the Pinkerton (“We Never Sleep”) National Detective Agency, William Pinkerton, and charges him with getting his damn money back, in the near soon if not before. Pinkerton unleashes his sleazy henchman Jiggs Dubois to recover the money and bring in the head of the varmint what took it.

And another thing. I didn’t know Safarik knew beans about guns neither. Well he does. The gun that started it all was Tall Bob’s police issue Enfield Mark II .476 revolver. The rifle that coulda' ended it all the same day it started was an old nine pound Civil War muzzle-loading .58 caliber Springfield musket wielded by a kid who could barely lift the sucker. The gun that fired the last shot and ended it all for certain sure was Bud Quigley’s Remington Double Derringer, Model 95, .41 caliber rim fire.

James Hill, now, he didn't pack a gun at all. He used a hired gun if he felt the need. William Pinkerton relied on his personal body-guard, Edgar Haines, who used a Volcanic leaver-action .41 caliber repeater. Dirty Dub ois packed a brace of Merwin Hulbert .30s in shoulder rigs in each armpit. Pinkerton Detective Balfour Smith favoured a snub-nosed Webley Bulldog, a powerful .455 caliber hand cannon.

But just because there were all those guns in this drama doesn’t mean it’s a shoot’m up bloodbath kinda book. Au contraire. Some folks do get plugged but there are far more horses ventilated than people. But back to the story.

The law dogs in this tale are sure nothing to write home about. Bismarck Sheriff John Humphrey was a nice enough old fart but he had the gout, a bad back and a case of the screaming hemorrhoids so severe he was loathe to lower his ravaged rear end onto the hurricane deck of even the gentlest old plug.

A little farther north, Gerry Whatshisname, head law enforcement officer of the generally peaceful burg of Bottineau, N.D., was a good old boy who didn`t even bother to carry a gun at all. He shuffled about town in his bedroom slippers with a cherub smile on his face; his occupation, or preoccupation, being to spend as much quality time as possible between the Widow Murphy’s comforting sheets.

And meanwhile, over to Regina, NWMP Commissioner Lawrence W. Herchmer wasn`t about to tell the American rent-a-cops nuthin. Just damn “Yankee riffraff`` he allowed.

Dubois and his sidekick, Balfour Smith, were dispatched to Mountie headquarters in Regina to get their man. They have an ace in the hole in Regina in the form of two Pinkerton retained spies right in the heart of Mountie headquarters. Two working ladies, Lilly Flett and Bonnie Blondon, ply their ancient trade above a Chinese restaurant in Regina’s warehouse district where, as Bonnie opined - ``There`s no place information flows like in bed."

Caught in the middle of the cross-border cops and robber intrigue is humble horse-trader Bud Quigley, whose spread is only a few miles north of the border in Manitoba. Quigley favours a 12 gauge side-by-side, 18`` barrel, Parker shotgun; generally has a .44 caliber Model 3 Smith & Wesson pistol handy, and a back-up over-and-under .41 caliber derringer in his shirt pocket.

This rollicking romp across the prairies is not just a cool chase book, it’s great historical fiction as well; chock full of detail about life in them days, the folks that lived it, the horses they rode, the guns they used or didn’t use as well as their usually closet confined skeletons.

Hot damn. I enjoyed this book. Thanks Allan. But don’t take my word for it folks. Get the book and find out for your own self. As for me, I can’t hardly wait for the movie.

-Jim Green is a self-described storyteller, poet, writer, broadcaster and entertainer who has lived in the Northwest Territories for more than forty years.

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