Charles Ballantyre is a good man, a just man, as many of his peers would attest, but he has his dark secrets. His daughter Evelyn has always loved and admired him, but ever since a mysterious accident occurred on their estate five years back, she has had trouble seeing him the same way. James Douglas was a stable hand, Ballantyre’s protege, and Evelyn’s confidante (being the closest to her in age in their remote area of Scotland). But when Ballantyre wanted to pin the crime on James, he knew the only way to escape imprisonment and death was to run.
Five years later, Evelyn and her father are in Chicago with their close friend and Ballantyre’s business partner, Niels Larsen. They have plans to attend the World’s Fair, then to sail up to Canada and fish along the Nipigon River. Evelyn is not eager for the camping portion of the trip, but she’s missed spending time with her father, and is hoping this will be their chance to reconnect. The party gathers new members (family friends Clementina and George Melton, and acquaintance Rupert Dalston) and momentum as they work their way north. A person they weren’t expecting to run into was James Douglas, who now goes by James McDonald and works as a guide for river expeditions. Suddenly, these characters find themselves having to face the consequences of that fateful night five years earlier, and tensions rise as they travel BEYOND THE WILD RIVER.
First off, you should know that this book is set in the 1890’s, so the characters talk like they’re in the 1890’s. For whatever reason, that did not occur to me when I was reading summaries of the book, so it caught me off guard at first. But, of course, it is the authentic thing to do, and I enjoy that style of language anyway, so it didn’t take me long to embrace it. Maine also did a good job of using it to evoke the concerns and situations of people in that time period, while still making it relatable to modern readers.
The driving force of the book is how and when the characters are going to address the issue of the accident that occurred on Ballantyre’s estate five years earlier, because as they travel on, the reader learns more about what happened (thanks to flashbacks, third-person perspectives, and allusions characters make to each other) as well as how many of them were involved. The main plot is obviously their present trip up the Nipigon, which serves as a good setting for the subplot, which is the reveal of who actually murdered the poacher and the gamekeeper. There’s an artful contrast between the beauty and tranquility of the wilderness in fall, and the more sinister dealings of those who travel through it; it also helps to cut the drama of the final scenes, while playing its own part in deciding the characters’ fates.
Surprisingly, I don’t have a ton of strong feelings about Beyond the Wild River, either way. The writing was solid, with some beautiful imagery and scenery, as well as a number of really strong scenes that stood out on their own. There was a wonderful atmosphere to it, which took some time to get into, but once you were in it you felt a part of things. I have few critiques about the structure, plot, or flow; even less about the characters, which were all unique and developed, with, I think, the exception of Evelyn. She didn’t feel entirely committed to any one viewpoint or direction, though, what 19-year-old girl is? However, I didn’t feel the need to proselytize about it to anyone when I finished. I wouldn’t say this book will change your life or your way of thinking, but it will keep you captive and engaged while reading it. It’s a very good beach or weekend read, for when you need to live in someone else’s world for a little bit; and there is a lot of virtue in a book like that.
Kate Schefer has a BA in Creative Writing from Elon University, and currently lives in Minneapolis with her boyfriend. She is on a never-ending hunt for the best cup of coffee, and the best park bench upon which to sit and read a book, and drink said coffee. If you approach her, she will make you wait for a response until the end of the chapter, because she never uses bookmarks.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Atria Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.