cover image Into the Savage Country

Into the Savage Country

Shannon Burke. Pantheon, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-307-90892-6

Burke’s first venture into western fiction (after two novels set in the present, Safelight and Black Flies) is a masterpiece of historical accuracy and exciting storytelling. Set in the 1820s, this bawdy tale of unwashed mountain men and foul-smelling fur trappers follows a 22-year-old tenderfoot named William Wyeth, who is seeking his fortune as a trapper with such real-life notables as Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, and Hugh Glass. Wyeth is an idealistic young man, eager to prove his worth to his doubting father, and just as eager to win the affection of Alene Chevalier, the destitute widow of a friend. Then a rival for Chevalier’s attention shows up: the unscrupulous Henry Layton, an old enemy of Wyeth’s. Layton plans to start his own fur company and invites Wyeth (who needs money) to join, which is too tempting for Wyeth to refuse. Their Market Street Fur Company must compete with other American, British, and French trapping outfits, as well as the Crow and Blackfeet Indians, in western Wyoming’s inhospitable Wind River Mountains. Wyeth and his party contend with bear attacks, betrayal, and murder—and not all of them keep their hair. Meanwhile, Wyeth wonders if Alene will still be waiting when he returns from the mountains. This is a raucous tale of a young man’s dream colliding with reality, and it also makes an entertaining history of fur trapping. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (Feb.)