It was once explained to me by a literary agent that the perfect recipe for a best-selling historical novel was to write about an unknown aspect of an event or person that everyone had heard about. He gave as an example “Cold Mountain” – everyone has heard about the Civil War, right? But the distinct un-enthusiasm of many nominally Confederate soldiers for the Southern cause was the perfect unknown aspect. By this principle, “To the Ends of the Earth” is a striking example of this axiom. Everyone has heard of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; that daring, two-year long mapping and scientific exploration of the then-newly-acquired Louisiana Territory. That acquisition expanded American possessions from a bare coastal toehold plus mountain range country to most of a continent, from sea to sea, but at the time it was very much a pig in a poke. It was the challenge of two daring young Army officers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to go and see what Thomas Jefferson had wrought, or at least purchased.

And so they did, and to great acclaim, popular, political and scientific… but this book is a speculative account of what happened afterwards; primarily an exploration of the mystery surrounding the death of Meriwether Lewis, who was on his way back to Washington, to account for his use – or misuse – of government funds. Was he murdered, as part of a plot by a vicious and sinister political enemy? Or – chronically ill, depressed and self-medicating with alcohol and patent medicines – did he kill himself? How valuable were his expedition journals, maps and scientific observations on every aspect of what he and his good friend had seen on their journey to the Pacific Coast? How much would a foreign power pay for them?

“To the Ends of the Earth” is more than a period thriller; it is also a deftly drawn and sympathetic portrait of friendships and relationships, in an age when the political and the personal merged. The deep friendship between Lewis and Clark is only the central facet. Of similar interests and complimentary temperaments, the great expedition had been the professional high point of both their lives, something that they had both longed to do and planned for. The close father-and-son affection between Lewis and Thomas Jefferson, his political and intellectual patron is implied, but powerful. Then there is the fraught relationship between Clark and his slave, York. York, who accompanied the two explorers into the west, is torn now between loyalty and affection. His growing dissatisfaction at being merely property, a chattel is more fully developed, as the two of them follow Lewis along the Natchez Trace on what would become Meriwether Lewis’ last journey. And then there is Clarks’ marriage to the pretty and feisty Julia, and her growing sense of independence.

The narrative is a web of relationships, but the force that drives the plot the malign character of James Wilkinson. Wilkinson – a political general and military incompetent – is known to have been entangled in all kinds of traitorous and self-serving plots during the early days of the American republic – including that which entangled Aaron Burr. Historically, Wilkinson seems to have been as corrupt and slippery an operator as is painted here; as such he makes almost too satisfactory a villain, cheerfully taking money from a foreign power and planting malicious gossip about people who have crossed him politically.

“To the Ends of the Earth” is a gripping and accomplished read, well-researched and unfailing in it’s portrayal of a time when the United States was still new and uncertain – and yet blessed with the services and devotion of men like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The book was awarded a silver medal in the historical/military fiction category in 2007’s Independent Publisher Book Awards.

“To The Ends of the Earth” is available from Blind Rabbit Press and Amazon.com.

Sgt. Mom is a free-lance writer and member of the Independent Authors Guild who lives in San Antonio and blogs at The Daily Brief. Her current book “To Truckee’s Trail” is available here. More about her books is at her website www.celiahayes.com

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