Set shortly after the American Civil War, historical western novel Fire Canoe Finnegan (2015, paperback, 249pp) by Denis J Harrington and Charlie Steel offers an enjoyable read for fans of the period and readers in general. ‘Fire Canoe’ is the term attributed by the Indians to the riverboats that brought countless white men to their territory.
Young Clint Finnegan is seeking adventure and a new life and is hired by Captain Glazer of the riverboat Dakota Dawn. His role is to be assistant master. Glazer paints a troublesome picture for Finnegan: ‘Gales, thunderstorms and tornadoes coming off the land will sink a steamboat faster than you can blink.’ (p21) Then there are winter’s ice floes and summer’s migrating buffalo, Indians and river bandits to contend with. ‘This isn’t a business for the faint of heart.’ Despite the sad fate of previous assistant masters, Finnegan accepts the offer!
Clint Finnegan is a likeable character who stands up for what’s right, no matter what.
We’re introduced to the workings of the Missouri River steamboat and several crew members, some of an unsavoury nature. Finnegan speedily learns to handle all the chores required of him.
But it wasn’t going to be plain sailing, especially since a number of Army officers are escorting a payroll strongbox. Before long, Finnegan meets attractive Elisha Parkinson, who is on her way to join her widowed father at his fort up-river.
As events escalate, the action is removed from the river to the land of the Sioux as Finnegan, aided by an Army scout, attempts to rescue the kidnapped Miss Elisha and recover the stolen money.
Resourceful and brave, Finnegan encounters Colonel Parkinson, a firm fair soldier who commands the respect of his men, Liver Eating Abner Mosely, a scourge of the Sioux, and Hump, the Miniconjou Sioux warrior hankering after killing a few interloping white men. All are well-drawn characters, including the kidnappers and thieves.
The scene is set for a fiery and bloody confrontation, and the pace of the narrative quickens as we race towards the satisfying denouement. Throughout, the description puts us in the scene and the action.
The silhouettes on the cover depict Finnegan and his faithful dog, Duke.
I for one wouldn’t mind meeting Finnegan again. Sadly, co-author Denis Harrington died July, 2015.
Editorial comment: For third person narrative, it’s preferable to consistently use only one name, either the given name or surname, not interchangeably both – either Clint or Finnegan. Obviously, relating characters will have a preference of one or the other, as appropriate.