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Turncoat

by Don Gutteridge

In the bone-chilling depths of the winter of 1836, all is far from well in Upper Canada. Lieutenant-Governor John Colborne may be snug in Government House in Toronto, but in the farms east of the capital, support is growing for the egalitarian reforms preached by William Lyon Mackenzie. As if this growing political movement isn’t annoying enough for Colborne’s administration, there are the added complications of large-scale liquor smuggling, resistance to the Clergy Reserves land policies, and rights claimed by American immigrants.

Colborne’s secret pipeline into these activities in the Cobourg area was through his personal spy, a local farmer called Joshua Smallman. When his man dies in an unlikely accident, Colborne sends a soldier to investigate the death and sound out the local situation.

His choice for the job is Ensign Marc Edwards, a young, recently posted British soldier who has some legal training. Edwards sets out along the frozen Kingston Road, and after a narrow escape from some murderous peddlers he arrives at his destination, the fictional Crawford’s Corners. His reception by the various inhabitants is mixed, but before long, in a series of engaging episodes, he’s worked out the details of the spy’s death, been seduced by a buxom farm wife, checked out the local political factions, and rescued the rebel leader from a possible assassination attempt.

The story unfolds at a satisfyingly brisk pace with the historical detail inserted in a an entertaining and informative manner. Gutteridge is the author of 13 other books, but this is his first foray into crime fiction. It is an impressive debut and the start of a intriguing series. Too bad most school history teaching lacks the wit and sparkle of this tale.