James Oliver Curwood’s A Gentleman of Courage is the love story of two youngsters who are informally adopted by the residents of a community on an inlet off Lake Superior.
The boy, Peter MacRae, is the son of a man wanted for murder. He sends Peter to a friend who owns the lumber mill at Five Fingers before disappearing.
Entering Five Fingers, Peter sees orphan Mona Guyon being molested. Although Aleck Curry is older and stronger than he, Peter rushes to her assistance, winning her everlasting devotion.
Peter is required to prove his courage several more times before the novel ends.
Peter and Mona are planning their wedding when Donald MacRae returns, weak and ill but longing for sight of his son. The police, led by Aleck Curry, are on his trail.
Curwood has difficulty making the children’s behavior fit both their ages and the plot. Either they appear way too old or way too young.
He draws other characters with such broad strokes they appear as caricatures. Fortunately Curwood includes enough action that the underdeveloped characters are not obvious until the book’s end.
The novel is good enough to keep readers turning pages, but not good enough to make them remember what they read a week later.
A Gentleman of Courage: A Novel of the Wilderness
By James Oliver Curwood
Illustrations from original paintings by Robert W. Stewart
Cosmopolitan Book Corp., 1924
1924 bestseller #5
My grade: B-
On his death bed, James Grenfell Kent, 36, sergeant in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, confesses to a murder he didn’t commit. From his deathbed, he also falls in love with the mysterious raven-haired beauty, Maretta, who tells him she knows who really committed the murder.
Instead of dying, Kent recovers, which means he’ll be hanged for the murder, unless someone else is found guilty, in which case he’ll do 10-20 for deathbed perjury.
Finding either of those outcomes undesirable, Kent plots his escape.
The plan misfires.
Kent finds the Mounties Inspector Kedsty dead, strangled with black hair, and Maretta standing over the body.
Kent and Maretta flee, becoming separated when their boat breaks apart in river rapids. Desolate, Kent wanders for almost two years before heading toward Maretta’s home in the Valley of Silent Men.
There he learns how Maretta knew he had not killed Barkley and discovers how she was involved with Kedsty.
There’s a happy ending, all mysteries solved except why the legalistic Mounties decide not to place those perjury charges.
James Oliver Curwood’s plot is absurd and his characters utterly implausible, but his description of the Canadian scenery is breathtaking. This is one novel that you’ll enjoy most by ignoring the story and focusing on the descriptive passages.
With its mix of Western adventure, mistaken identity, mystery, and romance, James Oliver Curwood’s 1920 bestseller, The River’s End, reads like Hollywood film plot.
As he is dying, lawman Derwent Conniston urges the outlaw John Keith to assume his identify and thus evade recapture for the killing of Judge Kirkstone. The two men look as alike as twins. Keith figures it’s worth a try.
Keith passes muster with the Royal Northwest Mounted Police commander, who is too upset by the late judge’s daughter’s dalliance with a shadowy Chinese businessman to ask many questions. Shan Tung, however, recognizes Keith for who he is.
Within hours, Conniston’s sister arrives from England looking for the brother she’s not seen for seven years. It’s love at first kiss for Keith, who has to figure out how to get the girl without getting hanged for the judge’s murder.
Keith first has to learn what Shan Tung knows that’s kept him from identifying Keith to the authorities and why Mariam Kirkstone is in thrall to Shan Tung.
If that all sounds silly, it’s nothing compared to the plot wrap up which features, among other events, Shan Tung showing off his Yale diploma.
You’ll enjoy The River’s End for all the wrong reasons. It’s an awful novel, so absurd that reading it is tremendous fun.