The work — thanks to deadlines


City of Tribes — a novel

Note: This is a work of historical fiction inspired by events that took place in British Columbia, India, and Hong Kong in the months leading up to The Great War of 1914.

Context: 1900 – 1914

The British Empire begins to stagger under the weight of “the White Man’s Burden.” Germany builds a modern navy to challenge English sea power. Unrest in Serbia pushes Europe to the brink of war. Workers in London, Moscow, Paris, and Vancouver trigger a wave of strikes, riots and sabotage. Robber barons fight back with goon squads and gangs of cheap foreign labour. Class warfare and tribalism sweep the earth like serial plagues.

Story Synopsis

In Calcutta 28-year-old Inspector Kip Henley hustles out of police headquarters with a list of intelligence targets, members of a secret organization known as the Ghadr Party. The dark-skinned son of an English soldier and a Hindu mother, Henley is tasked by the British Secret Service to infiltrate the East Indian community in Vancouver and do whatever he can to stop the terrorists. The dangerous mission might also prevent Kip’s marriage to his boss’s daughter, Lucinda Wessington.

On Canada’s west coast Charlie Patterson, veteran of the Boer War, formerly of the Northwest Mounted Police, and now a Vancouver city police inspector looking forward to retirement, investigates Bolshevik agents believed to be active in local labour unions. Charlie feels under educated and overwhelmed. He doesn’t like his job anymore. He will soon be diverted to a new assignment involving clandestine cells of nationalist rebels from Delhi and Calcutta, covertly active in Vancouver, plotting to throw the British out of India. Only a budding love affair with Marie O’Grady keeps Charlie from quitting the police and drifting home to Alberta.

A rusty tramp steamer called the Komagata Maru, three weeks out of Hong Kong, rounds Brockton Point and drops anchor in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour. A kinetic crowd of 376 Indian nationals, primarily Punjabi Sikhs, surges against the ship’s railing. Poor, unemployed, many of them veterans of the British Indian Army, these passengers have gambled their meagre life savings to chase a dream. They stare at this smoky young city on the edge of a dark forest and wonder what’s next.

The man who brought them here, Gurdit Singh, grey-bearded and regal at 54, stalks from the door of his private cabin across the main deck to see what Canadian authorities will do. An experienced and successful entrepreneur based in Singapore, Gurdit has bought and sold lumber from Vancouver for years. This time, however, things will be different. Canadian authorities are determined to stop all immigration from India. Gurdit steels himself for an ugly confrontation. Thus begins an eight-week siege.