Back in the dark ages, I met a young woman whose grandfather was, by the time I met him at least, a cheerful old character who moved about living with one or another of his children. He was fond of sitting around reading "adventure" kinds of books, authored by the likes of James Oliver Curwood and Zane Grey. So, one day I picked up one of his Curwood books, read a bit and asked to borrow the book. After a few years, I'd pretty much read through his collection of Curwood and later on, even contrived to "inherit" his collection (I married the young woman. She has since been throwing out the Curwoods to make room for her collection of Agatha Christie...in French no less. WTF?). For a time, I was rather fond of Curwood.
It's been quite some time since I've read any Curwood, so figured I should take him up again. So, for no apparent reason, I decided to begin with The Hunted Woman
. Curwood was fond of the northern wilderness. Pretty much all of his books take place on the edges of civilization, in western Canada up into the Yukon. In this book, we are among the outposts of the camps building the Canadian railways, somewhere in Alberta, along the Athabasca River Basin. I think Curwood's settings appealed to my inner Eagle Scout, hence my fondness for his writing. Perhaps Curwood's perverted view of women also amused me back in the day. Now, I'm appalled by his infantilization of women. Also, be warned, Curwood is a hair fettishist. It's kinda creepy, actually. All that said, Curwood can still spin a tale of adventure that can nicely while away a few hours of leisure time.
In this book, we have a young woman, Joanne Gray, coming into a very rough part of the Canadian west. When her train stops for a few hours, someone suggests she seek out Bill's place for refreshment. It was a joke, Bill Quade, the proprietor, was a complete scoundrel, the second most scoundrelly guy in that part of the back woods. The first-most scoundrel was the smooth-talking Culver Rann. Writer John Aldous, a manly man who loves the wilderness and smokes a pipe (back in the day, all manly men—and academic wanna bes—smoked pipes. Hell, even I smoked one for a while: I was an academic wanna be), follows her and saves her from the clutches of Quade. Almost instantly sparks fly between Aldous and Ms. Gray, despite Aldous' having previously been rather a misogynist, as evidenced in his body of writing, which was well known to Ms. Gray. It turns out that Ms. Gray is traveling to remote places to ensure that her husband is indeed dead. There had been a newspaper report to that effect, but then a couple of years later, she heard reports that someone might actually have spotted her scoundrelly husband, Mortimer Fitzhugh.
So, we have Aldous rescuing a young woman from the clutches of fiendish scoundrels, in the Canadian wilds. We have wild laborers in out of the way places, drinking, carousing and talking roughish. We have people besotted with lust for gold. And
, we have a young woman who rides through town on the back of a bear...like Godiva we are told. It makes for a good yarn. The only down side is the adolescent romanticism Curwood injects, but then, I guess people bought into adolescent romanticism back in olden times (well, they probably still do). I feel sorry for them.