Gold Under Ice: A Novel
As with her first novel, which won the 2009 Spur Award for best first novel, this is a POD (print on demand) book. Although a stand-alone novel with the author’s providing sufficient review and background of prior events, this could be called a sequel thus the reader would benefit by first reading God's Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes Of Montana (2008). With this book, Ms. Buchanan is creating a superb "western" saga. Richard S. Wheeler, six time "Spur" award winner and fellow Montana author, called God's Thunderbolt "...one of the greatest historical novels set in Montana." I doubt he is disappointed in Gold Under Ice.
The central character is New York scion and law-trained Daniel Stark. Taking Horace Greely's advice, he went west to grow up with the country and make his fortune. We find him in the Montana gold rush community of Alder Gulch of 1863. Because of his family's financial scandal and father's suicide, his purpose and plan is to strike it rich, return East paying off the debts and restore his ostracized family to upper class society, and then head back West for good. Can he succeed or is he too like his failed, gambling father?
The novel is divided: the first part is his Alder Gulch life as lawyer, common law husband to a part Cherokee wife, and step father to children including Tim, the seventeen-year-old stepson, who hopefully will be further developed in the next novel. Can Dan'l be a positive guiding influence or is Tim too much like his brutal and vicious biological father? Although believed justified, Dan'l's participation and involvement in Vigilante justice or hangings continue to be questioned by him, people around him, and today's historians. The second plot introduces the reader to the New York City and Wall street during our Civil War. With his poke of gold dust and a financial scheme involving the monetary trading exchange market and paper currency called "greenbacks", can he manipulate his gold enough to pay off the bank and secure his mother and siblings’ livelihood and financial future? Will the excitement of currency trading and lure of Harriet, an old flame, entice him to abandon his Alder Gulch life and stay? The author's portrayal of nineteenth century financial trading reminds me of novels like The Pit by Frank Norris and Dreiser's The Financier.
Many of the American "western" motifs are here -- rugged individualism, chasing the brass ring or searching for Eldorado, being on the make, remaking one's self, struggle for law and order, and resorting to solving problems through violence. Set Ms. Buchanan's novels along side Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain, the rush for opportunity and land of the Cimarron by Ferber, vigilante justice of The Ox-Bow Incident, and London's Klondike stories.
For history buffs, you might look for A Decent Orderly Lynching by Allen, Callaway's Montana's Righteous Hangmen, The Vigilantes Of Montana by Dimsdale, Gard's Frontier Justice, Hanging The Sheriff: A Biography of Henry Plummer (with a wife named Electra) by Smith or visit the website: http://montana-vigilantes.org/.
As the ACHS library has its "Kansas Shelf", I'm sure this author's novels are probably already on most "Big Sky" shelves next to A. B. Guthrie, Win Blevins, Nicholas Evans, Ivan Doig and other Montana writers. 406 pages. 2011 Spur Award finalist for best novel.
Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, High School Librarian Kansas