In August 1898, Clayton Monroe, sixty-some years old, is looking for a place of refuge. On the run from the law in the States, Monroe leaves Seattle for Victoria, Canada. Arriving in Victoria, he shoots his pistol in public and is ordered by a judge to leave the city. Monroe boards a steamship and heads for San Josef, a small town on the northeast side of Vancouver Island. A portion of the island is inhabited by a small colony of primarily Danish immigrants, working the land with the promise of government subsidies that would help attract other settlers to the island.
The immigrants include Rolfe and Anika Frederickson who, along with their young son, operate a general store in San Josef. When Monroe befriends a cook working for the local lumberjacks, he is introduced to the couple and finds a small shack that he now calls home. He hopes his seclusion will protect him from those who wish him harm.
In July 1899, Cyrus Walker, a freight wagon driver in Kansas, reads an article written in Seattle about a former bushwhacker named Clayton Monroe who, during the Civil War, killed his parents and raped his sisters. He immediately buys tickets to Seattle, seeking revenge.
This novel is about a man who has committed atrocities during the war and tries to seek redemption. Monroe is an old man with nightmares because of “the killing of widows and orphans.” Sometimes he just wants to have someone put a bullet in his back, but first he “needed a place unhounded to set things straight.”
Descriptions of the landscape, especially Vancouver Island, permeate the story, which is rich in historical accuracy. The author paints a thorough picture of life on Vancouver Island at the turn of the 20th century.