There has been a spate of books published in the last few decades lamenting the deterioration of our national and provincial parks, with Sid Marty being but one of the heralds of such a crises, and Roderick Haig-Brown’s On The Highest Hill an earlier yet another BC classic. There have also been, in the Canadian literary tradition, writers whose novels traverse generations of lives and the outworking of decisions over decades, Mazo de la Roche, Robertson Davies and Hugh Hood being but three of the better known epic novelists. But, rare are the writers who weave together an obvious concern for the parks environment and do so in a national and grand manner—such a writer is George Mercer. Fat Cats is the 4th novel in his “Dyed in the Green Series.” Dyed in the Green (2015), Wood Buffalo (2016) and Jasper Wild (2017) are prequels to Fat Cats (2018).
The previous novels have clarified, in incisive detail, the dilemmas park rangers and wardens confront across Canada when engaging the conservation-preservation tension: crude developers, poachers, hunters and a dated notion that nature is but an expendable commodity to exploit and destroy for profit or senseless amusements and trivial diversions. The sheer beauty and bounty of Fat Cats is the way such a tale is brought to the West Coast of Canada, with Sidney Island and the Southern Gulf Islands being both the site and metaphor for some of the inevitable dilemmas that are raised between parks, environment, wild animals, human habitation and the difficulty of satisfying the needs of each and all in some sort of tenuous cooperative venture.
The cover of Fat Cats is a teaser that veils the more ominous situation that park warden, John Haffcut, fresh from clashes in Jasper National Park, must deal with. Is the fat cat the cougar that has made its way to Sidney Island and is killing families of deer or is there more to this generously polished tale? Who is the real predator? The reader cannot but be drawn into this unfolding drama, the perennial motifs and themes very much before us these days.
The main characters in this unfolding drama cannot be missed as the tale unfolds in a fast moving plot: cougar mercenary versus cougar tracker, park superintendent, park warden, 1st Nations, politicians, wealthy landowners, park bureaucrats and administrators, ex-military man, widowed beauty, park versus private ownership tensions, RCMP and issues that divide, what seem to be at first glance, close knit families and partners.
The initial portal into the tensions deal with the way fallow deer are taking over Sidney Island and wreaking havoc with plants and private gardens. How should the deer be culled? And, the indigenous blacktail deer population revived? Is hunting the way? Or, will a cougar do the deed, a cougar that had made the swimming trip to Sidney Island (such a cougar was killed by a rather lawless and immoral cougar mercenary)? The reader is soon drawn into a more ominous reality the further the journey is made into the deeper tensions and potential murder mystery, a sort of environmental Sherlock Holmes.
John Haffcut remains throughout the novel the main protagonist, his last name part of his internal tornness—how deep should the cut be into the troubling issue? Will a halfcut do or must the cut be faithful to a principle that cuts through compromises, deceptions and betrayals? How far should John go as he clashes with obvious opponents and, more worrisome, those near and dear to him? Fat Cats probes, in intricate detail, layered motivations, temperaments and ambiguous external challenges and, raises this perennial question: is a simple black-white way the wisest approach to seeing, interpreting and doing or is a more nuanced, refined and long term vision (in which many a compromise must be made) the more mature way to achieve conflicting goals?—certainly the best and brightest divide regularly on which approach is wisest and best.
The reader is drawn, page by page, to the end of the novel as the principled yet conflicted journey of John Haffcut continues, the questions surrounding the death of an affluent landowner mount in intensity and the main actors on the stage collide and cooperate for different reasons. Who is hunting who becomes the leading question as each of the final pages reveal the unexpected yet hoped for ending to this 4th in the “Dyed in the Green Series” and, of course, the companion question: who are the real fat cats?
Those who live, move and have their being on the West Coast cannot but be drawn into the largesse and bounty of Fat Cats. All of the issues faced on the West Coast are woven together in a finely textured tapestry in this must-read novel with a nail biter ending. The previous three novels are amply worth the read, and expectant readers cannot but anticipate the publishing of Book 5: Tidewaters and Book 6: The Rhino’s Horn and Six Parks: The True Stories Behind the Series.
Fat Cats by George Mercer; Published by George Mercer, 2018; ISBN 9780987975461