Monday, July 30, 2007

BOOK: The Halifax Connection by Marie Jakober

My most recent read was The Halifax Connection, a book I picked from the Random House site. I was intrigued by a novel set during the American Civil War but in the nearby city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. I spent many an evening down on the waterfront, partaking in the lively Halifax nightlife during university years. Walking around amongst the old warehouses that have been converted to pubs, reminds you that Halifax is a city rich in history. This novel takes advantage of that fact.

From the publisher: Canada in 1862 is still a few scattered colonies run by an indifferent British crown. As the American Civil War heats up south of the border, Southern Confederates flood into Montreal and Halifax, among them numerous spies and military officers planning secret missions against the Union – missions they hope will provoke a war between England and the United States, throwing the whole weight of the British Empire into the Confederate camp.

Jakober creates characters to fit into this time frame, and the world of spies and intrigue. As well, there is a romance against the back drop between Erryn Shaw, self-exiled British man, acting as a spy for the government and Sylvie Bowen, a poor immigrant from a cotton factory in England that has been closed, in part because of the civil war and the problems obtaining cotton from the south. They meet in Montreal where Erryn is making connections with the Rebels and Sylvie is acting as a ladies maid for an elderly Halifax woman. Both are wary of love, but fall quite quickly. Then everyone heads back to the harbour city of Halifax, where the real spying action is going on.

I found the story a little confusing to begin with, as a lot of characters, some fictional, some real life, are introduced so it took me quite a while to get into it. I also had some difficulty following the spying and plots, but I often find intrigue and double crossing plots difficult to follow. It took a long time to set up the big plan, and the narrative was often told in flashback. Jakober had a wonderful way of describing life in the 1860s of North America and I could picture a lot of the action on Hollis Street and Spring Garden Road. I really liked the ending and was surprised at how it turned out. It was a good payoff for the story. I liked the love story and the two main characters; both were plucky and smart but not reckless, and the love story works because of the obstacles the spy action introduces.

Jakober explains at the end what plots and attacks are based on recorded events and where she invented parts to make the story make sense. I liked how it ended at 1864, which for Canadians who know their history, was the Charlottetown meeting which began the Confederation process.