Any narrative of the 1804-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition should likely leave the reader impressed with the durability of the congenial collaboration exhibited by the expedition's co-captains, Meriwether Lewis - technically, the man put in charge of the Corps of Discovery by President Thomas Jefferson - and William Clark. That their relationship and friendship remained steadfast over so many miles, months, and hardships is remarkable. I mean, I can start squabbling with the wife on a weekend trip out of town.
In the mid-1790s, Western Americans in Kentucky concocted an ill-conceived scheme with French agents to separate the Mississippi Valley and New Orleans from Spanish control, thus opening the Mississippi River to free navigation and access to a port of commerce on the Gulf of Mexico. President Washington was publicly opposed to such a venture. The plot's ostensible leader was George Rogers Clark, the Revolutionary War hero (the "Conqueror of the Old Northwest") and older brother of William Clark. At the time, Lewis and William Clark were young officers in the fledgling U.S. Army serving in the Northwest Territory. It's against the background of this time, place, and conspiracy that author Frances Hunter, in THE FAIREST PORTION OF THE GLOBE, envisions and constructs a credible tale of the genesis of this remarkable comradeship.
The strength of Hunter's yarn lies in her engaging treatment of the strengthening Lewis-Clark camaraderie. While the details of her story are fiction, one realizes that something similar must have occurred to cement the personal bond between the two men.
The weakness of the story is the context provided by the anti-Spanish plot. In actual history, the intrigue was a no-go almost from the start, and it therefore goes nowhere within the confines of this novel. To help flesh out the main plot, Hunter also introduces a sub-plot (based in fact, according to a communication from the author) involving a sister of the Clark brothers, Fanny, and an abusive husband, Jim Fallon, one of the elder Clark's co-conspirators. By the end of the book, this particular sideline achieves almost Keystone Cop preposterousness.
As one pretty much indifferent to the history of the American Revolutionary War, I was mildly fascinated by the author's depiction of several of that conflict's heroes in their later careers, most notably George Rogers Clark, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, and the controversial General James Wilkinson.
While THE FAIREST PORTION OF THE GLOBE is an above-average read - 3.5 stars which will necessarily round out to 4, I'm tempted to say that the Lewis-Clark relationship needs no fictional embellishment but rather stands well enough on its own within the historical record.