What good is a mounted policeman who can’t ride? As it turns out, in Stephen Legault’s tightly plotted mystery, quite good indeed.
It’s 1883, and the Canadian Pacific Railway is trying to tame the Kicking Horse Pass. Three years earlier, an ambush cost Sergeant Durrant Wallace his leg below the knee, leaving him a shell of a man. In Holt City, Alberta, blasting foreman Deek Penner is murdered after an argument over illegal whiskey. With the Northwest Mounted Police spread thin, Durrant is dispatched to investigate. Though it pains him to acknowledge it, he knows he needs help getting around. Enter Charlie, a mute stable boy with secrets in his past who acts as the sergeant’s leg man.
Durrant’s obstacles aren’t just physical. Holt City is riddled with schemers, saboteurs, moonshiners, and corrupt members of parliament, all of whom have something to gain from Penner’s murder. Legault ably juggles the interconnected characters. The tension builds slowly at first, but picks up steam as the story unfolds. The reader is never unaware of how alone Durrant is in the camp, or the danger this isolation presents.
Although possessed of a thoughtful mind, Durrant’s disposition does him no favours. He is a prickly sort – albeit with good reason – and following the ambush that crippled him, he swore he would never again be caught without a loaded weapon. This philosophy carries over to his investigation style, which sees the Sergeant acting with bulldog-like assertiveness, alienating many.
Legault’s portrayal of Durrant is the novel’s highlight. Given a renewed sense of purpose, the Mountie is able to reclaim the man he was before losing his leg. His emergent emotional depths aren’t limited to policing: at first an unwelcome necessity, Charlie becomes like a surrogate son. Legault does a good job developing this rich character while never allowing the suspense of the story to flag.