Just north of the border that spring a lone rider arrives at the small ranch of Bud Quigley. Known only to Bud as Tall Bob (he had made arrangements to get a horse from Bud a couple of weeks before) the rider has pushed his horse to the extreme. Initially it is not clear if the horse which has been grazed by a bullet will survive.
Flush with cash Tall Bob purchases another horse and directs Bud to kill the chestnut gelding with white socks to avoid complications. Unable to kill a beautiful horse and always eager to make some money Bud does his best with some dye to disguise the horse and sells the chestnut to a travelling man.
While unsure of what happened Bud believes Tall Bob has run afoul of the law in the U.S. He is correct. Tall Bob has been to Bismarck, North Dakota where he single handily robbed the First National Bank of a payroll for the Great Northern Railway. Unfortunately, in trying to get away Tall Bob accidentally shot and killed the bank manager.
James J. Hill, the imperious president of the Great Northern is upset, less with the death of the manager than the audacity of a crook robbing his railway. He already has the Pinkerton's on contract to help break up union efforts at organizing railroad workers.
Four months after the theft Hill summons William Pinkerton of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from Chicago to Saint Paul to demand progress:
“…. Let’s start moving on this matter. I want my damned money back! Damn it, I don’t care how much money I have to spend to get it back I want the same damn bills, the very same pieces of legal tender that were taken from my bank. If you have to shoot the bastard to bring him in, then shoot the smart bastard right in the forehead, just like he shot that poor soul who worked for me. Everybody concerned will be served notice that robbing me doesn’t pay and I’ll be a happy man again.”
Directed by Hill to take a personal role in the investigation Pinkerton travels to North Dakota and gathers a team together to conduct the investigation.
From the bullet casing found at the robbery site the Pinkerton's decide to look north as well as south of the border.
American police and the Canadian Northwest Mounted Police confined their investigations to their country and did not venture across the 49th parallel marking the border. The Pinkerton's see no borders in their investigations. I had not thought about how a private detective agency is not hamstrung by borders. (It was an era where no one had to be licenced to be a private detective.) It gives the Pinkerton's far greater flexibility in investigations.
A lead takes the Pinkerton's to Regina, then a part of the Assiniboia Territory, and the headquarters of the Northwest Mounted Police.
Where most books speak highly of the Mounties such as the intrepid Sargeant Durrant Wallace in The Third Riel Conspiracy by Stephen Legault, which takes place in 1885 and is partly set in Regina, the Northwest Mounted of Swedes' Ferry are ill-trained and barely able to patrol the plains.
I was caught off guard by the identity of Tall Bob.
Tension builds as the Pinkerton's gather and digest information.
The conclusion to the book is striking and unusual for a Western, let alone a Western mystery.
It is a good book. It does not sparkle. It is historically accurate. It is well worth reading.
I consider it a perfect book for my blog friend, Prashant C. Trikannad, of the Chess, Comic Books, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema blog. Residing in urban India he has a passion for books set in the old West of America. This book will let him expand his Western experience to Canada.
****I am glad to report that Swedes' Ferry becomes the 17th book I have read for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge (13 books are the Challenge) which is well beyond what I have read in any previous Canadian Book Challenge. I hope to get more Canadian books read before the Challenge closes on June 30.
Related: The Pinkerton's and Old Bill Miner