This is the first Guy Vanderhaeghe book I've read, and I"m not sure why. One of his books was very popular back in those days, long ago, when I worked in a bookstore. One of the bright lights of Canadian literature, and I'd entirely missed him.
And now I can say I'm sorry it has taken me so long to get here. Because this is a very good book indeed.
Wesley Case was part of a terribly disorganized and unprepared militia during Fenian attacks on Canada, and carries the guilt for his actions every day. He joined the military in Western Canada, but his father buys out his time in order for him to come home and undertake a political career. Case decides to be a rancher in the United States instead.
Once in the U.S., he becomes the go-between for the military men in charge of the closest forts on either side of the border, who are worried about a potential Sioux attack and need the kind of intelligence that doesn't get written down in official reports.
Case also starts running into Ada Tarr, the wife of a local lawyer and businessman, who is both abrasive and intelligent. They rub each other the wrong way, frequently, misinterpreting the intentions of the other in the most negative way possible.
Ada is being guarded by a man named Michael Dunne, who is creepy as hell. Her husband is under threat from someone he helped cheat, and he has hired Dunne. Dunne is neck deep in the Fenian cause as well, although not, perhaps, for the reasons you might think. He becomes obsessed with Ada.
These are the pieces on the board. The real pleasure is what Vanderhaeghe does with them. It becomes a book about expectations and realities, the interpretations that people put on the words and actions of others, and how they might (or might not) differ from reality. Ada and Case misjudge each other constantly. Dunne has lofty expectations of an eventual life with Ada. The Canadian commander becomes friends with Sitting Bull and thinks he can predict Sitting Bull's next moves. Case is just as sure he can't.
In a wilderness where society is being created anew, often at the cost of previous inhabitants, cues are even more difficult to read. And the past is always with you, even if you were running away from it as fast as you can.