Jim Kent, a Mountie, lies in bed. He thinks he’s dying, so confesses to having murdered someone or other so as to get the guy the Mounties had fingered, Sandy McGregor, set free. An amazingly beautiful young woman visits Kent, briefly, and he is immediately smitten by her long raven tresses and her violet-flamed eyes. Also her tiny feet.
Well, it turns out Kent was lying and he didn’t kill someone or other. But his testimony convicts him. But…the ravishing young woman, Marette Radisson, comes to the jail and frees him. They flee up the river into the north. They are separated when their boat crashes on the rapids, and each presumes the other is done for. But each persists on to the “Valley of the Silent Men” so as to commune with the soul of the “lost” one. And so forth.
OK, this is outdoors romance with a strong hero and a warm-hearted, brave heroine. One of the tales of the Three Rivers country. But frankly, the hero is silly, the heroine over-the top darling, and the story doesn’t make a lot of sense in today’s rough and tumble world.
The ‘silent men’ of the title refers to the names of three mountains overlooking a remote valley. The saving grace of the novel are the beautiful descriptions of the northwest, at a time when the wilderness was still wild.
Before the railroad’s thin lines of steel bit their way up through the wilderness, Athabasca Landing was the picturesque threshold over which one must step who would enter into the mystery and adventure of the great white North. It is still Iskwatam – the “door” which opens to the lower reaches of the Athabasca, the Slave, and the Mackenzie. It is somewhat difficult to find on the map, yet it is there, because its history is written in more than a hundred and forty years of romance and tragedy and adventure in the lives of men, and is not easily forgotten. Over the old trail it was about a hundred and fifty miles north of Edmonton. The railroad has brought it nearer to that base of civilization, but beyond it the wilderness still howls as it has howled for a thousand years, and the waters of a continent flow north and into the Arctic Ocean. It is possible that the beautiful dream of the real-estate dealers may come true, for the most avid of all the sportsmen of the earth, the money-hunters, have come up on the bumpy railroad that sometimes lights its sleeping cars with lanterns, and with them have come typewriters, and stenographers, and the art of printing advertisements, and the Golden Rule of those who sell handfuls of earth to hopeful purchasers thousands of miles away – “Do others as they would do you.” And with it, too, has come the legitimate business of barter and trade, with eyes on all that treasure of the North which lies between the Grand Rapids of the Athabasca and the edge of the polar sea.
Curwood was a prolific writer of wilderness adventure tales, and was wealthy from his writing by age 22. I read another of his works, The River’s End, and enjoyed that one. But this one didn’t do it for me, and I think I will pass on the remainder of his oeuvre and move on to other authors. Remember, this is from the 100 Best Sellers of the Last One Hundred years, and ‘best seller’ doesn’t necessarily mean best fiction.
This book was written in 1920.