Quill and Quire

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Above the Falls

by John Harris

In his new book, Above the Falls, John Harris gives us a very good portrayal of the North and of a way of life that has largely disappeared.

The publisher uses the terms “creative non-fiction” and “fact-based novel” interchangeably when describing this adventure story. I would say the latter term is more accurate, although the main characters are all based on real people who lived in the Nahanni River region in the 1930s. And there is the mysterious Nahanni itself, land of headless corpses and a rumoured tropical valley. This is just an extended neighbourhood for the men and women of the mountains, but when trouble strikes, help is not near at hand.

As a mystery, Above the Falls leaves something to be desired. The book kicks off with the disappearance of two trappers and the burning of their cabin. Was it murder? Well, we’re introduced to the killer on page five, so the who and the how of the puzzle are cleared up quite quickly. There’s still a good chase through the mountains at spring break-up, however, and we don’t know until it ends whether there will be more victims or if the murderer will be caught.

Given that this novel is based on an actual event, readers might be disappointed that there’s not a brief sketch in the afterword of what really happened – the bare bones of truth upon which Harris has hung his fiction. Still, Above the Falls can be enjoyed as a good yarn that gives us a glimpse of a magnificent part of our country.