Picks and Pans Review: The Last Crossing

updated 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Guy Vanderhaeghe

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A bestseller in the author's native Canada, this brisk travelogue of 19th-century western U.S. and Canadian territories unfolds after two English brothers cross the Atlantic. Addington (the arrogant one) and Charles (the sensitive one) are searching for their lost third, Simon Gaunt, who came to the New World to convert Indians to Christianity. Along the way they encounter Lucy Stoveall, who claims to be chasing a stray husband but is really hoping to avenge her sister's murder; a comically pathetic horse trader who pines after Lucy; and a Scots-Blackfoot half-breed who serves as a guide. The characters take turns narrating, and the author adeptly inhabits very different minds (well-bred Englishman, gruff barkeep). But in his enthusiasm for adventure Vanderhaeghe loses sight of the big plot picture. Rather than forming a satisfying arc, Crossing plays out more as a flat string of incidents. There is, however, a fine sense of frontier justice. By the end, the right folk are paired off, returned home or eaten by bears.

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