Canadians took politics seriously in the years following Confederation and Gordon Aiken’s novel about pioneer Muskoka and the fledgling nation’s capital shows why. Unique events in the Dominion’s second election, in 1872, inspired Aiken to write about Muskoka’s returning officer, Richard Bell, who refused to declare Liberal candidate A.P. Cockburn elected, even though he got the most votes. Consequent ground-breaking events included Bell’s summons to give an accounting of himself to the House of Commons, the first and only time an MP would be elected to parliament by members of the Commons itself, and reforms in Canadian election law including introduction of the secret ballot. Privately published as Returning Officer in 1982, and long since out of print, this Blue Butterfly edition is re-titled No Return. Completely reset and redesigned, with added maps and period photographs, this new edition also features J. Patrick Boyer’s afterword, Gordon Aiken’s Quest and the Genesis of No Return. The political intrigues woven into Gordon Aiken’s rich tale of local and national affairs from 140 years ago will resonate with readers today, if its essential plots and human ambitions were simply updated by new technology and a fresh cast of characters to re-enact timeless dramas of mismatched lovers, a local judge fighting the newspaper editor, lumber barons playing both sides to keep their timber licences, and contractors changing political sides to win road jobs (or what today are termed infrastructure projects). Aiken, Member of Parliament for the same district a century later, wrote with deep understanding about Muskoka and its people and acute knowledge of parliamentary politics. No Return tells of one man’s struggle to support his chosen party, maintain his independence, confound his enemies, and hold his family together under duress.
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