“Beyond the wild river” has two distinct timelines. A short one in 1888 in Scotland and the other larger one five years later in the United States and Canada. Set during a time when class and gender were a greater social divide than it is today.
1888 at the Ballantyre estate in Scotland. James Douglas is an orphan who is taken under the wing of a reprobate poacher. When the poacher is jailed, and to give him a more stable and comfortable life, the wealthy Mr. Charles Ballantyre acts as mentor and gives him a home and lodging and employs him as a stable hand.
When the old poacher is shot and killed, then the gamekeeper is also murdered on the same night, James is unjustly blamed. He runs, and the Ballantyre’s do not know where he has gone…
The female protagonist of this novel is Evelyn, the daughter of Charles Ballantyre, a respected Scottish magistrate. Evelyn, though a dutiful, well-mannered girl is nonetheless encumbered by the gender-based restrictions that are inherent in the time in which she lives. This is a time when any hint of impropriety can spell doom to a young girl’s reputation. So it is that when her father misinterprets her relationship with a servant, he whisks her off to North America and out of scandal’s clutches. She visits the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, then sails via yacht to the Nipigon River in Canada for a fishing expedition.
Coincidentally, a neighbour from Scotland is also at the World’s Fair. Rupert Dalston is asked to join them in their trip to Canada’s Nipigon River. Accompanied by another woman and her husband, and some guides, the party trades their comfortable accommodations for more basic canvas tents and birch bark canoes. As fate would have it, the guides, one of whom is James, lead the party up the river with skill – partaking in several arduous portages on the way.“…away from the constraints of civilization to where there was space enough to settle scores.”
This is the first time that Evelyn has seen James in five years. Never one to adhere to ‘mannered condescension’, Evelyn is a free thinker who believes in the equality of the classes. She always believed in James’ innocence, but doubts remained due to the fact that her father had allowed the world to believe him guilty.
“Beauty, combined with wealth and an undoubted naïveté, attracted predators, though, as her father had recently learned.”
I was rather underwhelmed by the first two-thirds of this novel as it was slow moving and fairly predictable. The final third was much more enjoyable as the pace picked up and the story-line came together nicely. I enjoyed the scenes at the World’s Fair and admired how the author put a less than glamorous slant on the whole proceedings. In the scenes set during the fishing expedition, the action and the surroundings were atmospheric and well described. The character of Evelyn failed to live up to her potential in my opinion. So much so that I never really connected with her. My favorite character in this novel was James Douglas, and I would have liked it if the author had concentrated more on his story and less on the myriad peripheral characters. In summation, I would recommend this novel to those who like historical fiction in vividly described settings, but who are not too hung up by a slower paced novel with underdeveloped characters. The murder mystery was intriguing and nicely resolved at the end.
I’ve heard good things about this author, so intend to read her first novel, “The house between tides” in due course.
I’ve rated this novel 3.5 stars but due to the fact that stars mean different things on different sites I’ve rounded down to 3 stars for Goodreads and rounded up to 4 stars for Amazon.
Sarah Maine was born in England but grew up partly in Canada, returning to the UK for university where she studied archaeology. She now works as a freelance researcher, lecturer and writer, combining an interest in the past with a love of travel and an outdoor life.