By Guest Blogger Vicki Delany
I believe I may have invented a new sub-genre: the anti-noir.
Noir is roughly defined as essentially pessimistic, having a hopeless tone, depicting a world that is inherently corrupt, a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation. (Wikipedia)
In contrast, my new book, Gold Fever: A Klondike Mystery is set in the Yukon in 1898, at the height of the Great Klondike Gold Rush, where optimism, warranted or (mostly) not, was the order of the day.
In the late 1890s, the United States was in the midst of a severe depression. When news of a gold strike in the remote Canadian Territory of the Yukon reached the depression-stuck cities of the south, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people abandoned farms and factories and families, sold all their possessions, borrowed what they could, quit jobs, and headed north, into the wilderness. It was perhaps the last time in history when thousands of people could simply leave home, sell everything, and set off – on foot! into the wilderness in the hopes of making a fortune.
They were driven by a spirit of optimism that was largely unwarranted. By the time news got to the Outside of the gold finds, most of the best claims had been taken, and all that was left for those who scrambled up the Chilkoot Trail (with a thousand pounds of supplies in tow) were jobs working someone else’s claim. Other than a few lucky miners, the people who really made the money were those who ‘mined the miners’. The dance hall owners (such as my protagonist, Fiona MacGillivray), businessmen, shop keepers.
When you consider that in the summer the sun barely set, that dance halls, bars and gambling rooms were open 24 hours a day (with the exception of Sunday), that the North-West Mounted Police (precursors to the RCMP) had stamped law and order on the town so that crime wasn’t much of a problem, Dawson in 1898 really was the opposite of noir. Is there a word for that? There should be.
But clouds were gathering…
The nineteenth century was coming to an end, and the twentieth about to begin. With so much hope and promise. In Gold Digger, the first book in the series, the landlady, Mrs. Mann, says to Fiona’s son Angus, when he wishes they had a telephone: Many wonderful changes you’ll see in your lifetime, dear.
The tragedy of the twentieth century is that all the changes weren’t exactly wonderful. Angus is 12 in 1898 – in 1914 he’ll be 28, just the right age to enlist in World War I.
I attempted to keep a lighthearted tone in Gold Fever and Gold Digger, fitting the sense of the time and place that I get reading about it and looking at all the wonderful old photographs. The horrors of the twentieth century are still to come, so let’s let the cheechakos and sourdoughs and dance hall girls and NWMP officers and gamblers and ladies of the night have their fun while they can in the Last Great Gold Rush.
Vicki Delany writes the Constable Molly Smith books, a traditional village/police procedural series set in the mountains of British Columbia, the latest of which, Winter of Secrets, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, (“artistry as sturdy and restrained as a shaker chair”). She is also the author of a historical series (Gold Fever) set in the raucous heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush, Vicki lives in rural Prince Edward County, Ontario. Visit www.vickidelany.com.