This is my second Tom O’Neill story from North-West Romances. the first was the novella “Mountie on the prod” which I thought formulaic but an okay read.
“Ghost River” opens with the village along the Powistic River in Chippewayan country being attacked by a weird spirit bear, a massive grizzly that makes a strange yip-yip-yip sound. The natives cower inside their largest log cabin. Only a young boy named Tanissi is brave enough to look at the creature. It attacks him through the window.
After the monster leaves the chief decides someone must brave the river to get to the redcoats — the Mounties– to take care of the bear. Tanissi is “voluntold” because he dared to look at the beast. The boy scampers into a canoe and paddles frantically away. As he leaves, a white man and his half-breed partner watch him go. The white man knows he is headed for the RCMP fort. He laughs because he’d like a chance to square things with Sgt. Carnes, the fort’s leader.
Carnes is busy writing a report for HQ. When the huskies begin barking he sends his underling, Constable Burke to investigate. Burke returns with Tanissi and his fantastic tale of a spirit bear.
The two Mounties take to their canoe along with the boy. On the way to the village, they encounter Vance and Tarneau, the two plotters. Taking away their guns, the policemen tell them to leave the Chippeway country by the next day. The Mounties know the two men from previous scams in which they tried to scare natives from their rich fur trapping areas.
Carnes suspects Vance is watching them so they sneak off, hunting the spot North of the village the boy told them about, the lair of the spirit bear. The two men see the monster, track it back to a cave. Using their pistols they fire into the opening. The monster collapsed down dead. Investigating, they find the bear is fake and inside the costume is Vance, shot dead. Carnes keeps the head of the costume to show the villagers as proof. Seeing this, Carnes knows, the Chippewayans will be only too happy to capture Tarneau for them.
This story has many things wrong with it. First off, the RCMP officers’ attitudes are typically racist, treating the natives like children. It is the same attitude you find in other Fiction House Pulps like Jungle Stories. Secondly, the story is poorly structured with the solution coming too soon and too easily. It felt like it could have been a novella with several scenes of the haunting monster in the tradition of false monster stories like The Hound of the Baskervilles. Instead, it is abrupt and the Mounties never really face any challenge. Not Tom O’Neill’s best work.