As the crew who came here to film an episode of the Canadian television series Murdoch Mysteries a few years ago told me, Dawson is a place that’s just a perfect backdrop for storytelling. The particular episode was a lot of fun to watch them film and then see it on TV later on. It was the first episode of season five, the last season before the show migrated over to CBC.
Lots of writers, from Jack London on, have used the town and its history. Some have done great work, others have not.
This week I want to highlight two writers who have done, in my opinion, quite good work.
In 1998, perhaps with the Centennials in mind, Robert Kroetsch released The Man from the Creeks. I had tried a couple of books by Kroetsch previously, and hadn’t finished them, so I was leery of this one, but the setting persuaded me to give it a try, so I picked it up – and then let it sit on my shelf, unread, for nearly 10 years.
It’s a novelized version of Robert Service’s poem “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.” Since it’s not dealing with real history, but with a wild west sort of situation that never did occur in Dawson, handguns being banished from town, the liberties it takes with reality are more forgivable than those taken by Howard Blum a few years ago in his poorly researched novel The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush.
Kroetsch provides an engaging backstory for the Man from the Creeks,” as well as the “Lady known as Lou,” “McGrew” himself and the kid at the piano playin’ that jag time tune. The latter turns out to be the fellow who is telling us this story at the ripe old age of 114, and he tells it well.
The book is still available in real or virtual paper and I highly recommend it.
For a series, I would point you to Vicki Delany’s Klondike Mystery books, featuring the adventures of Fiona MacGillivray and her associates. They take place in Dawson City in 1898, with some flashbacks to 1897 and others to earlier years in her life. Fiona co-owns and manages the Savoy Dance Hall, including a bar and lounge with a floor show, dollar-a-dance girls and a few rooms to let on the second floor. Throughout the four books we have been learning about her past and how she got to Dawson with her teenage son after a hardscrabble early life in Scotland and England –
trouble seems to follow her around.
All four books take place within a few months at the height of the Gold Rush. They are not accurate, in that there were never than many murders in the Klondike in that year, but they catch the spirit and feel of the place if not the authentic history, and they are not pretending to do anything else.
The titles are Gold Digger, Gold Fever, Gold Mountain and Gold Web. They are not heavy reading, but they are a lot of fun. The last one came out in 2013, and so far there’s no mention of a fifth on her website.