As a devout fan of Victor Rousseau Emanuel’s earliest works of literature, it was a pleasure to finally fish out “The Big Man of Bonne Chance.” This edition was printed in boards (UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1925) while the original appeared in an American pulp (Argosy All-Story Weekly, 1920 Nov 27; Dec 4, 11, 18, 25) in five installments and bore the title “While Dorion Lives,” which is Chapter 19 in the novel.
The novel opens with a literal half-wit running through the only street of the village (known as Bonne Chance), hollering to each household and business that a ship, the Blanche, is about to dock. The entire town is expecting a government spy to disembark, and they are not disappointed. A stranger by the name of Will Maitland does indeed strike out for dry land. Will takes little notice of the local’s angry looks, as he surmises that they, like all hostile areas that he invades, are displeased by the businessman in their presence. He realizes that they suspect and hate him for the business(es) he might destroy in his path toward improving his financial standing. Unbeknownst to him, they have recently suffered the losses of several schooners that were illegally transporting brandy, and firmly have him down as a spy.
Thus begins over 300 pages of harrowing feats in which this businessman must deal with an isolated hamlet, very much uneducated, and set in their local ways, whilst in their own midst is a gang of smugglers that run the town via bullying. Even worse, the town notary (La Rue) is clearly at the onset the lead villain in the novel.
Four years earlier, Emile Dorion, the most sought-after bachelor in Bonne Chance, built strikingly like a Viking, is tricked into marrying 16-year-old Jeanne. She is of the McGraeme clan, vying for the Dorion lands. Upon marriage, Emile and other sealers set out to the frozen wastes, only to return without him. Listed as dead at sea, Jeanne is widowed overnight and her uncle, Jeremiah, is left in charge of her and the estate, until she comes of age. Not the brightest man in the town, he falls prey to the whims and fancies of La Rue, whom is strategically a genius at manipulation.
Now, flash forward nearly four years, several months shy of Jeanne’s coming-of-age…. Will Maitland has arrived to inspect the local woods for a tree sample that accidentally crossed his desk back home. It is a strong yet flexible wood that is perfect for the construction of aeroplanes. Thus begins the harrowing legacy of a man embroiled in a battle with his fists and wits against nearly an entire town of misguided fools, hoodlums, the fiery Jeanne, and the dishonest notary La Rue.
Will he acquire the rights to lumber Dorion’s acres, for which obviously the timber hails? Shall he secure the love interest of the novel, Jeanne? Will the villains tear their love asunder and wreak all sorts of absurd havoc upon Will Maitland’s business intentions? And is Emile Dorion truly dead, or, will he rise mysteriously from the frozen watery wastes to rip a new hole in this romantic tragedy? All this Rousseau adeptly interweaves to an action-packed climax, but a lame finale. A la la !!!