In Joseph Conrad’s autobiographical short story Youth, we are introduced to Marlowe, who upon initially sighting the ship he is to join in his first commision wistfully states:
“There was a touch of romance in it, something that made me love the old thing – something that appealed to my youth!”
Similarly, when Arrow’s Flight protagonist Jared Kane sights the wooden ketch Arrow for the first time:
“She was laying into the sunset and seemed to float in a coppery sea of light, her tall amber masts suspended above her. Sometimes that first impression colours everything that follows and so it was with me and Arrow.”
Arrow’s Flight (2018, ECW Press) by Joel Scott is an adventure story worthy of the master himself. I also wondered if the Conrad connection even went as far as the boat’s name Arrow (from Conrad’s novel Arrow of Gold, about – among other things – arms smuggling by boat). There is yet another Conrad similarity, this time regarding the author, Joel Scott. Like Conrad, he came from a landlocked area (the Canadian Prairies) and became familiar with sailing. His bio says he worked as a fisherman, and as a yacht broker. No doubt this enabled him to put various touches of authenticity into the story, like the numerous fishing pursuits available on the West Coast, the myriad details of the Arrow and other pleasure craft that appear throughout the book.
Jared Kane was tragically orphaned at a young age and raised by loveless and strict Christian grandparents until he was old enough to leave their farm. Since then, he spent time in the fishing industry, crewed on a yacht and spent 2 years in jail on a trumped-up assault charge. As the book begins, Jared is back in the city after another fishing season has ended. He finds in his mail a letter from a lawyer informing him that he is being bequeathed the Arrow by his old friend Bill Calder who has just passed away from cancer. His widow, Meg hopes that the Arrow will “be the catalyst” that will help Jared break free of his personal history and “move beyond it.” Jared lovingly restores the parts of Arrow that time has taken its toll on and he lives aboard her.
“I lay on the bed a long time [….] thinking about the past and how it all wove into the present: it had all started on a sailboat and now a sailboat was giving me a chance to make a fresh beginning, to wipe away the old mistakes and bitterness and move on, and I swore I would not foul up this time no matter what. I should have known better.”
His immediate plan is for him and his friend Danny to take a trip down the coast to Mexico. Danny is reluctant for his fishing season was not so financially productive. Jared tells him not to worry, for he had a good season and he and Danny can pick up odd jobs as they cruise southward. Danny agrees and a departure date is set. Jared reflects:
“I congratulated myself on how quickly it was all coming together. It all fell apart even more quickly.”
The last sentences of both quotes above (“I should have known better” and “It all fell apart even more quickly”) foreshadow that for Jared, his old way of life hovers over him and hampers any positive changes he wishes to make. Danny, wanting to get quick money to pay his end of expenses for the Mexico trip, uncharacteristically gets involved in a smash and grab that lands him in the hospital, being left for dead by his two accomplices. Jared, feeling that he is partially responsible for Danny’s impetuous action, tries to get Danny a lighter sentence by helping the police arrest the ones who left Danny for dead, the drug dealing Lebel brothers, from Quebec. This is the jumping off point of the novel, and it occurs less than 90 pages in.
Aside from Jared, the other characters in Jared’s circle are quite likeable as well: Annie, a Haida who is like a mother to Jared, and her youngest son Danny MacLean, who is part Haida, part Scot; large, strong and a good worker. Annie’s father Joseph is a Haida Elder and shaman is quite old (“somewhere close to ninety”) and only speaks in old Haida dialects, soft, low and with a “murmur of sibilance.” He appears to understand English when spoken to, however. A unique character, he is still youthful at heart, coming and going when he wants, and wherever he wishes. He appears to be a type of talisman, a touchstone for an earlier age of wisdom and sagacity. He is also Raven clan (Raven was a trickster), which is advantageous for Jared and Danny at times. Joseph additionally provides subtle comic relief throughout the book. While Jared and Danny are most agreeable to the reader despite their rough past, Joseph is, by far, the most likable, and it is refreshing to see a strong Indigenous character given such a central role.
The adventures really start when Jared and the others “kidnap” Danny from an ambulance and get him aboard the Arrow where Jared feels he will be safer from those out to finish him off. It appears that when Danny got involved with the Lebel brothers, he heard or saw something (which Danny can’t recall for the life of him) and now someone wants him dead, as well as Jared and Joseph since they are all together now. The three of them decide to hightail it to Mexico, but not until they load up with plenty of guns and supplies.
Arrow’s Flight is a riveting story which propagates even more nail-biting as the boys sail further south and escape attempts on their lives by whomever it is that is able to trace their every move. Nevertheless, there are periods, or interludes when the three actually get to enjoy themselves on their trip, meet love interests and make new friends. It serves to ease the tension (of both the characters and the reader) until the next clash with danger. Also, when alone, Danny gets to reflect on where his life has taken him.
“My life was not my own, and never had been. Not when I was a child, not when I left the prison, and never since. It seemed there was a special vengeance reserved for me and those I loved. My family taken as a child, and everything since a cruel irony. A second chance with Annie and Joseph and the family, and then the gift of Arrow, which should have changed my life but instead had led to tragedy and death for those around me.”
I can’t say enough good things about Arrow’s Flight; it’s not merely a good guys/bad guys action/adventure set on the water, but also a lesson in the fact that every action has consequences, and responsibility must be taken for the choices one has made. Another takeaway is to trust in those who love you and don’t be afraid to confide in them, for you never know when you’ll need them in a tight situation.
Consider putting Arrow’s Flight on your Summer reading list (I’m adding it to my “Summer Reads” category) and I’m also adding it to my long list for a 2018 “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction. 5 stars!
(Note: this review was based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by ECW Press.)