The most famous gold rush on this continent was certainly the one that took place in 1849, in California. To those of us who grew up listening to Sergeant Preston of the Mounties and his lead dog Yukon King on the radio, not very far behind was the one that occurred in Alaska and the neighboring Yukon Territory in the early 1900s. Incessant winds howling across the airwaves, and cold? You’d better believe it.
And when supplies ran low, food became as scarce and as valuable as gold itself. In this recently reprinted novel, published as a western, when Corporal Zach McQuestion’s good friend Molly Malone is murdered for her storehouse of provisions, he takes it personally.
As a crime or mystery novel, which this definitely is, the plot is essentially one-directional. Simply follow the killers wherever they go, and in this case, down the coast from Skagway to Seattle to San Francisco and beyond. But what Pronzini offers as a background is a leading player as well: the rough and tumble life of a boisterous young frontier America, just after the heyday of the cowboys, as towns were growing up and open spaces were just starting to fill in. The story ends begging for a sequel, but so far as I’ve been able to discover, there’s never been one.