When A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe opens, Wesley Case needs to “find himself”, although such terms were not used in the 19th century. He is not the son his father wants; his achievements as a military officer are middling; and, he isn’t particularly fond of his school friends as adults. He heads West.
Case’s time working with Major James Walsh sets a theme for his life – the encroachment of the RCMP and neo-colonialists on the land and social structures of North American native peoples. After Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and his people took refuge near the Cypress Hills, the policies of the United States towards the Indian nations were enacted much more harshly than Canada’s.
In Canada, the flow of history was moderated somewhat by Major Walsh who tried to interpret his duties in a manner respectful to local Indian tribes and individuals.
Against Walsh’s advice about his somewhat disreputable partner, Joe McMullen, Wesley Case sets himself up as a rancher near Fort Benton in the US. Joe and Wesley suit each other through their common ethic of hard work and in their contrasting styles of social interaction.
Ada Tarr is woman of spirit, initially married to a local tyrant. Despite societal norms, Wesley is hopeless in avoiding his attraction to her. Only his voluntary responsibilities as a go-between for Walsh and the American military officer, Major Ilges, draw him away from Ada’s charms. Another man has also succumbed to Ada’s charms, but his attentions she definitely does not welcome. Already an enemy from Wesley’s early days, and initially blinded by his peculiar moral stance, Michael Dunne comes to the realization that his dreams are being destroyed by Wesley Case. He devises a plot to rid himself of the destroyer and win the fair maid.
In romance, A Good Man can win. In the politics of conquest, he cannot.
- Judith Umbach