Book Talk: Canadian authors write about the world, transcending boundaries everywhere

Peter Critchley shares details of fine Canadian works of both fiction and non-fiction

Canadian authors have written, and are continuing to write, some of the finest fiction and nonfiction in the English language.

The universality of the stories continues to transcend national boundaries to speak to the world at large.

The Last Crossing (2002) by Guy Vanderhaeghe, a major talent far too little known, is a sweeping epic that works on more than one level, like all great works of art. It is a vivid and illuminating work of harshness and redemption driven by a riveting adventure featuring unforgettable characters in the West, a landscape the author vividly paints.

The novel tells of the disappearance on the prairie of Simon Gaunt, a wealthy and idealistic Englishman travelling with a devious missionary later found dead. Simon’s tyrannical father orders brothers Charles and Addington to search for him and find out what happened. The two brothers, guided by half Scot, half Blackfoot Jerry Potts (a real person of the time), set off into a wilderness only inhabited by warring native tribes and crooked traders selling them whiskey.

They are accompanied by Lucy Stoveall, a resilient beauty searching for the renegades responsible for raping and murdering her younger sister, and Custis Straw, a Civil War veteran desperately in love with her.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013) by Margaret MacMillan, the Canadian author of the prize-winning Paris 1919 (2001), is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.

The author, professor of international history at Oxford, eloquently illustrates that years of decisions and reactions by a few powerful people paved the way to war despite a near-universal desire to keep the peace.

In the first years of the 20th century Europe believed it marched on a road to a golden, happy and prosperous future. But instead, increasingly acrimonious rivalries, the complex personalities of the leaders of several European nations, colonialism, ethnic nationalisms and shifting alliances helped break the peace and lead to a war that many political and military minds believed would be short and serve to cleanse the European world.

The author also makes clear the alliance system in place, with the Entente Powers squared off against the Central Powers, proved imprisoning rather than helpful in the buildup to war, particularly with the naval arms race between Britain and Germany.

The War That Ended Peace is elegantly written, incisive and insightful and enriches our understanding of one of the defining periods and events of the past century.

Fire (2016) by C.C. Humphreys, one of this country’s most underrated novelists, is the riveting tale of a hunt for a serial killer during the Great Fire of London in the summer of 1666.

The story opens a few months after the events of the author’s novel Plague (2014), an award-winning work that introduced readers to the tenuous partnership of highwayman William Coke and thief-taker, or bounty hunter, Pitman.

London, devastated by the plague one year earlier, is a political and social hotbed and the conflict between royalists and Parliamentarians continues to smoulder, a conflict both religious and political. Coke and William are in the surreptitious employ of Sir Joseph Williamson, England’s spymaster, striving to track down London’s hidden cabals, particularly the remaining Fifth Monarchists.

The author cleverly uses the reader’s knowledge of the coming fire to ratchet up the tension as Coke and Pitman, at increasing peril, continue to investigate and attempt to thwart what appears to be the planned assassination of Charles II.

These three titles, and many more terrific reads by Canadian authors, are available at your Okanagan Regional Library — www.orl.bc.ca.

Peter Critchley is a reference librarian at the Vernon branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.