Counter Currents by Shaun McLaughlin – book review

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by Edith Cody-Rice

Counter Currents  Counter Currents, by Shaun McLaughlin, is a companion novel to his historical book Patriot War Along the Canada -New York Border. In it he recounts the events of 1837-38 when a combination of Canadians and Americans plotted to invade and eventually did invade Canada near Prescott, Ontario, in an effort to free Canadians from the  tyranny of British rule. The story even in its historical context is compelling and contains all the elements of an adventure novel: pirates, brave men and cowards, incompetent leaders, courageous women and a daring raid.

McLaughlin makes the story extra exciting and personal by inventing the character of Ryan Lone Pine. Red headed Ryan has arrived from Ireland and most of his family died on the way. When his father is killed (we are not told how), Ryan sets out on his own to claim land up the Ottawa Valley and is taken in for a summer by a family of Algonguin. McLaughlin skillfully weaves in a perfectly credible history for Ryan's family – chased from Ireland by politics and suffering quarantine on the notorious Grosse Ile in the Gulf of St Lawrence, an immigration depot where many Irish died of cholera or typhus. Ryan befriends a raven chick who becomes his companion and in some cases, his saviour.

Most of the characters in the novel really existed, thus we see Ryan associating with Colonel Richard Bonnycastle, who headed Fort Henry, John A. MacDonald, later first Prime Minister of hte United Canada, whom Ryan hires to defend his Hunter friends, BIll Johnston, the real life river pirate who repeatedly outwitted the British, Sherriff MacDonnell, the rough but fair keeper of the political prisoners at Fort Henry and Daniel Huestis and other Hunters, members of the club dedicated to freeing Canada. Ryan suffers at the Battle of the Windmill and is tried in the summary and unfair trials that condemned the invaders to death or transportation to the penal colony. Ryan is transported and his letters to Bill Johnston's daughter Kate bring to life and devastating life of slave labour there.

Love interest in the novel is centred on two strong characters who really existed. Bill's daughter Kate is the young and innocent love, although she is a capable and daring companion to her father. Ada Burleigh is a mature woman who inspires lust as well as affection.

McLaughlin has taken advantage of the exciting history to write a lively and readable novel with interesting characters. It is among other things, a great introduction to the history of the Patriot War and Canadian history in general, for young people. Attention parents: There is one steamy erotic scene. This book is a good read in an historical context and proves once again that Canadian history is far from boring.

Unfortunately, the historical results were disastrous for the invaders. A combination of poor planning, bad luck and incompetent leadership doomed the effort and the men who invaded were executed or sent to the penal colony of Van Diemen's land, now Tasmania, with only a few being reprieved home to the United States.