Blog / Book of the Month / The Deadly Five (2020) by author Raymond Maher - Book Review

The Deadly Five (2020) by author Raymond Maher - Book Review

Posted in 2023 / Pastor Ted Giese / Articles / Book Review

The Deadly Five (2020) by author Raymond Maher - Book Review

The Deadly Five (2020) by author Raymond Maher 

FriesenPress, paperback 198 pages.

Set against the rugged backdrop of the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858 The Deadly Five tells the story of an unlikely group of men who form a unique bond over two years of prospecting as they, along with 30,000 other men afflicted with gold fever, venture into the newly founded colony of British Columbia to strike it rich.

The resourceful Will Brown, nicknamed ‘Nothing’ Brown because of his small stature, quickly emerges as the central protagonist. As a devout Quaker uninterested in gambling at cards, drinking in saloons, or philandering with prostitutes he seems misplaced in the rough and tumble world of prospecting. While generally meek and mild with a gentle heart Brown, a man under church discipline due to his history of lack of self-control, at the first sign of trouble throws himself into spectacular frothing berserker fits of fury to confuse and disarm his attackers. It’s his fearless trigger-happy temper that first catches the attention of the hulking loner Mean Mike who takes a liking to the diminutive fellow American. In short order they are joined by the equally large Seph, a bartender sick of serving drinks and dealing with drunks; and the Québécois Métis trapper and fur trader Jacque, a former Hudson’s Bay Company employee with bush and river experience. Eventually Wilfred ‘Old Man’ Magee, a down on his luck British prospector and singer with a history of foolishly drinking away the proceeds of his prospecting, rounds out the five when Judge Begbie, the local crown magistrate, adds Magee to their number by court order as a “chance to start over.”    

Nothing Brown soon shows himself to be more than a man with a short fuse. Much of the book revolves around his skills as a field medic and his desire to set an example for his family back home in Oregon “by living in the light of Christ” both in his actions and as a Christian in his spiritual struggle to grow in pacifism and to see “God in everyone.” In fact his desire to seek gold is rooted in charity and not in the accumulation worldly riches. Along the way his aspirations to help others in need creates a vocational dilemma for Brown who at one point describes himself as “an almost person, too short to be a real man, not a real doctor or priest, just a weird little guy who you could say anything to because he did not count.”

While fictional The Deadly Five is authentic to the time and place it is set in and will appeal to readers interested in historical fiction and 19th century wilderness adventures. Writer Raymond Mahar, a retired Lutheran Church—Canada pastor living in Chilliwack, British Columbia, displays a deft grasp of the geography and history of the time carefully weaving the positive and negative sentiments of the era regarding religion, politics and attitudes between various racial groups who were suddenly thrust together along the Fraser River.

Christian readers will be particularly interested in the way this quintet of prospectors come to have their moniker and the effect this notoriety has upon them as The Deadly Five. Even more so, they will be interested in seeing how Nothing Brown’s faith in some way impacts nearly everyone he comes in contact with from judges to prospectors to bar maids all in need of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23) displayed in him: love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. Brown’s inner conflict comes from his desire to have joy, peace, patience, and self-control in equal measure as one who belongs to Christ Jesus. As rough and bad-mannered as the search for gold at times becomes within the story Mahar manages to provide some truly bittersweet and tender moments of grace and second chances in the face of tragedy that are well worth any reader’s time. Along their way The Deadly Five unexpectedly discover something more precious than a pan full of gold; they find friendship, loyalty and trust in a world full of cheats and crooks, murderers and scoundrels.

Rev. Ted Giese is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; an award-winning contributor to The Canadian Lutheran and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese. Check out our Media and Movie Review Index!          

Photo credits: main photo book cover with detail inset illustration of prospector with sluice box from wikimedia commons; photo of Raymond Maher provided by author.