If you are looking for a good read during lockdown, or this summer beside the pool, consider Gary Turner’s trilogy I’ll Take My Chances. Turner began his writing career here in the pages of Motorcycle Mojo (November 2012) with an account of his nine-week tour of Europe and visits to First World War sites. This was his spark for writing a novel of historical fiction loosely based on the life of his veteran grandfather. Ultimately, it became a sweeping, generational epic, featuring rich characters in a carefully woven plot that is swift and engrossing.
Rooted in the lives of pre-colonial North Americans, the story turns to England, where Sidney Turner is forced out of his family home and negotiates a berth aboard a rusty old ship heading for Canada. The author’s skill shines in his descriptions of young Sidney’s seasickness and the gruelling work of shovelling coal into the ship’s boiler, his first encounter with love and sex in Montreal, and the despondency of his loss. Sidney eventually finds himself homesteading in Manitoba, where he marries a young Sioux woman named Emma before he’s called back to Europe, where he is killed in the First World War. Particularly moving are the scenes of trench warfare, and the heartbreaking deaths of teenage boys, lying face down in the mud or tangled in lines of barbed wire.
At home, Emma gives birth to Sidney Jr., their first and only child who, despite his mother’s vows, later answers his own call to war against the advance of Nazi Germany. While he escapes death, he cannot escape the demons of war, and his life becomes the distressing tale of a man trying desperately to return to normal life, to marry and raise a family, while PTSD drags him inexorably to hell. Third time’s a charm: Emma’s grandson, after surviving Vietnam and wandering North America lost on a motorcycle, finally heeds the wisdom of his Native ancestors in seeking peace and healing.
Gary Turner hails from a military family and has spent decades researching military history. This, and a keen eye for human behaviour, enable him to make the past come alive in a tale that rings true and keeps the pages turning. He successfully captures the trends and figures of speech that were unique to each of these three generations, the motivations for and consequences of war, and the hope and spirituality of his characters. I’ll Take My Chances is an enjoyable read, especially if you’re a fan of 20th Century history. The book is a significant accomplishment for a first novel, let alone a trilogy.
Available from the author’s website bluemaxchronicles.com or Amazon.ca
$23.99 for each volume. Paperback, 320 pages, 215 pages, and 181 pages respectively.
Also available on Kindle at Amazon.com.