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Jack Casey
Into the Heartland
Jack Casey, author
The dream of opening a waterway west into America’s heartland had long been deemed impossible, but in 1810, New York mayor DeWitt Clinton vows to construct a 350-mile canal through the wilderness. Facing formidable opposition from power-hungry young Martin Van Buren, Clinton needs support from the powerful echelons of society – and he knows the only woman who can help him. Eleanora Van Rensselaer rules a vast estate, but her wealth will vanish if a dark secret is revealed. In pursuit of the Erie Canal, Clinton enlists Eleanora’s persuasive charm along with the practical know-how of ship captain Daniel Hedges. Her social savvy and his frontier ingenuity form an ideal team - if only they can fight the powerful feelings growing between them. From America’s stunning naval victory on Lake Erie to the British invasion of Washington, D.C., Daniel and Eleanora persevere through wrenching personal loss, long separations and backbreaking labor, never stopping until their colossal dream is a reality. And working together to achieve their goal, they just might find a love that changes them, and America, forever.
With a deceptively simple premise, Casey (The Trial of Bat Shea) deftly weaves romance into a historical retelling of the birth of the Erie Canal in the early part of the 19th century. Eleanora Van Rensselaer, a young widow who alternates between her estate, Claverack, and Albany, New York, finds her time bound up with social obligations–and more pressingly, with advancing the efforts of politico DeWitt Clinton, who is drumming up support for the Erie Canal project. Daniel Hedges, a ship’s captain and surveyor from Buffaloe Creek, emerges as a driving force behind the actual planning of the canal, while Eleanora, despite being considered landed gentry, appeals to the general populace for backing.

Characteristic of all transformative infrastructure projects, the building of the canal is littered with secrets–much like the relationships that Casey examines among these three proponents. Casey brings historical characters and situations to life for contemporary audiences, painting key events–from the region’s battles during the War of 1812 to a malaria epidemic during the canal’s construction–with enough vibrant, unstinting detail to evoke a visceral response. History-minded readers will be deeply immersed in the political and social machinations that powered this then-young country’s budding political machines. Casey’s respect for the time period and passion for the subject shine through.

The novel’s romantic entanglements don’t shine quite as brightly as the political intrigues and carefully chosen historic details. Eleanora and Daniel’s interactions come across as more scripted than organic, and much of their dialogue in the book’s first half is stilted. As the story unfolds, however, their dynamic takes on a smoother and more inviting tone, especially when the focus is less on romance and more on the relationships developing among the large cast. Historical fiction lovers will delight in this unique tale of a rarely dramatized turning point in American history.

Takeaway: An immersive historic novel that illuminates the digging of the Erie Canal.

Great for fans of: Amy Harmon’s Where the Lost Wander, Jennifer Donnelly’s The Tea Rose.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A