Seeking to see the world, for almost half of 1868 newly graduated lawyer, Chad Hobbes, sails on a small English warship from England to Victoria, British Columbia. He travels with a letter of introduction to Mr. Justice Begbie, the senior judge in the colony.
On his arrival Hobbes finds a stagnant economy for the Cariboo Gold Rush on the mainland has ended. With no employment as a lawyer available he takes a job as a police constable.
Over the winter he deals with the usual petty crime and drunken problems of the residents and visitors to Victoria.
The Victoria of 1869 is so different from the cultivated English enclave of the late 20th Century. At the time of The Devil’s Making it is a pioneer town with few families. It is a crude raw city filled with transients.
The late 1860’s are a time of transition and tension for the distant English colony on the west coast of North America. The British have established their presence. The Indians of the Northwest are trying to adjust to the demands of the newcomers. At the same time the U.S. is pressing north. There are a substantial number of Americans living in Victoria. Which nation shall have San Juan Island is disputed and both countries have troops stationed on the island.
The Indians have names for the two major groups of whites. The British are called King Georges and the Americans are Bostons.
In the spring of 1869 American alienist, Dr. McCrory, is murdered just outside Victoria. Compounding the crime, he has been mutilated before dying. The nature of the murder and the mutilation cast suspicion on a group of coastal Indians from the Tsimshian tribe who have come to the area on a trading expedition.
Their chief, Wiladzap, is immediately arrested and lodged in the cells at the Victoria courthouse. McCrory had been spending time alone in the forest with Lukswaas who the police understand to be the wife of Wiladzap.
Hobbes is not convinced of Wiladzap’s guilt. He commences an investigation into the lives of McCrory and Wiladzap.
McCrory has been absorbed in studying the principles of the mind of that era. He has studied such topics as Phrenology, Mesmerism and Psychology. He believes in Universal Fluid. He is particularly interested in sexual issues.
His treatments are unconventional for our time. I was startled by “electric testicules”.
Wiladzap has been living a traditional lifestyle. He has had significant contact with the white newcomers. With Wiladzap reluctant to talk Hobbes looks for information from Lukswaas.
Hobbes is attracted to the lovely young Indian woman. They come from vastly different circumstances. She has grown up in the camps of her tribe while he is the conventionally educated son of an Anglican minister. They communicate in Chinook, a lingua franca, of the West Coast.
There are vivid contrasts explored involving the cultures, social mores and lifestyles of the West Coast Indians and the Victorians (the distinctions between Americans and British of the time are also examined.)
The Devil’s Making is a very interesting mystery. It is alittle slow in pacing to start the book but it is well worth the effort to read the book. Haldane has skilfully portrayed the different peoples intersecting in Victoria. It is an adventure about Hobbes in which there is a mystery. Still the book is focused on the mystery. It is different from any other Canadian mystery I have read. (July 18/14)
****The Devil's Making is my 1st of 13 in the 8th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mutford at the Book Mine Set blog.