Zachary hides again
May 25th, 2014
Few British Columbians can tell you the first explorer to have reached B.C. waters, for certain, was Juan Pérez in 1774. Almost no one can tell you the first B.C. premier was John McCreight. The relative ignorance of our past explains why we have had so few historical novels about life in B.C. prior to 1900…
Back in 1971, Ian Mahood of Nanoose Bay self-published a fictional life and times of Nuu-chah-nuth chief Maquinna and the arrival of Captain Cook, The Land of Maquinna, circa 1778.
George Bowering’s Burning Water (General 1980) offers a fanciful depiction of Captain George Vancouver feuding with his insubordinate botanist Archibald Menzies, circa 1792.
A blend of fact and fiction, Maureen Duffas’ A Most Unusual Colony: Vancouver Island (Sandhill 1996) is the story of the colony of Vancouver Island as told by fictional Kate Murray and the fictional letters of Mary Yates. It covers a period from the first Scots immigrant in 1849 to the demolition of Fort Victoria’s buildings in 1860.
David Corcoran’s The WestCoasters (Macmillan, 1986) is a Michener-styled saga that begins in 1857, published to coincide with Vancouver’s Centennial, duplicated somewhat by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths’ 750-page, generational novel called Vancouver (HarperCollins 2003).
Jane Austen-like, Vanessa Winn’s The Chief Factor’s Daughter (Touchwood 2010) recalls the daughter-laden family of Hudson Bay Company Chief Factor John Work in Fort Victoria around 1858.
Donald Hauka’s McGowan’s War (New Star 2003) was a fine attempt to document greed and corruption in 1859 when the British Crown could barely control 30,000 politically divided American miners camped the length of the Fraser River.
Lee Henderson’s The Man Game (Penguin 2008) melded historical characters with fictional, feuding, fighting, obscene loggers in the aftermath of the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886.
By comparison, the literary process of integrating First Nations characters and culture into West Coast fiction has a long history, starting with B.A. McKelvie’s melodramatic Huldowget: A Story of the North Pacific Coast (J.M. Dent & Sons, 1926) and A.M. Stephen’s The Kingdom of the Sun (Dent, 1927)—an historical romance about a gentleman adventurer named Richard Anson who sailed aboard Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind, only to be cast away amongst the Haida.
So Stan Krumm doesn’t have a lot of competition.
To popularize pre-Confederation-based B.C. fiction, Krumm, a Quesnel-based jeweler, has invented an original character, Zachary Beddoes, whose name appears in the titles of two novels published twenty years apart, Zachary’s Gold (Oolichan 1994) and now Zachary’s Horses (Touchwood 2014), due in April.
“I want people to enjoy the fact that we have a wonderful history that’s full of fantastic stories in British Columbia,” says Krumm, “We don’t have to go to the American Old West to find entertainment.”
In the first novel, Zachary Beddoes, an ex-Pinkerton agent from the U.S., arrives in Barkerville in the 186Os, seeking his fortune. He is stymied until he kills a man in self-defence. Dead Ned’s cache of stolen gold suddenly makes him a rich man but also a desperado before he is able to explain what happened.
Wounded, Zachary needs help from a Chinese prospector, ‘Rosh,’ a fellow outsider, to survive. Instead of being the hero who triumphs against adversity in the end, Zachary remains a cold and frightened victim of circumstance, unable to clear his name.
Above the 49th parallel, in Krumm’s fiction, the outlaw is not glorified or mythologized like train robber Bill Miner who was mythologized as a “gentleman bandit” in the movie The Grey Fox. Zachary is a tight-lipped drinker and gambler, prone to shrew philosophy, who receives no sympathy whatsoever as a fugitive from frontier justice by the end of Zachary’s Gold.
In the new novel, Zachary’s Horses, at age 34, our ex-lawman and narrator resurfaces in Victoria in 1870. Using a less-than-clever alias, Lincoln Zachary, he has assumed majority ownership of the Celestial Hotel, a Chinese-run established erected by his Chinese business partner on the south side of the Johnson Street Ravine, “where the Jews and Americans were building.”
Zachary has drawn attention to himself with a bi-racial marriage to his partner’s daughter, Sue, and his gold reserves are running thin. “I was approaching the age when a man is simply incapable of learning how to make an honest living,” he confides to the reader.
Intrigues include a possible scandal involving their child’s governess, Sarah Green, who had a different name when she was living in Olympia, Washington, and a much-ballyhooed horse race involving skullduggery and unsavoury characters, including the nefarious Mr. Roselle who recognizes Zachary from Barkerville and tries to blackmail him.
“I was haunted by visions of Roselle, and visions of myself and my family running from angry crowds, creeping fearfully across the wilderness,” Zachary confides.
Although Zachary’s Horses involves crime and deception, it’s not a page-turner; rather it’s Krumm’s highly credible depiction of manners and customs from the protagonist’s retracted personality that proves alluring.
“The thought occurred to me that no one had extended an invitation to me that would include my wife… It was disagreeable and illogical. James Douglas had, up until very recently, been governor of this colony, while married to a woman who was half Cree Indian, but a man with a Chinese wife was still expected to leave her at home. Good enough. Sue would not have wanted to be here, where her beauty and grace would have embarrassed these colonial crones.”
Anyone who reads either of these novels will wish it won’t take Krumm another twenty years to deliver a third installment.