Breakheart Pass (novel)
First edition cover (UK)
|Preceded by||The Way to Dusty Death|
Breakheart Pass is a novel by Alistair MacLean, first published in 1974. It was a departure for MacLean in that, despite the thriller novel plot, the setting is essentially that of a western novel, set in America in the 19th century. Fans of MacLean will recognize the usual plots twists, thrill-packed finale, and trademark sardonic dialogue. Unfortunately, for American audiences, MacLean was less successful capturing an authentic tone of the frontier American West, and the 1975 movie version starring Charles Bronson proved to be more popular with the public than the novel.
The story begins with a perilous winter railroad journey through the Nevada Territory in the 1870s in the midst of a blizzard. Aboard the train are Nevada governor Fairchild and his niece Marica, along with U.S. cavalry Colonel Claremont and two carloads of troops. Joining them are U.S. Marshal Pearce, the governor's aide, and Pearce's old Army buddy Major O'Brien. Pearce, a lawman and Indian agent is transporting dangerous murderer and gunman John Deakin. Their destination is the remote Fort Humboldt deep in the Nevada mountains, whose troops have recently been decimated by a cholera epidemic. Dr. Molyneaux, a tropical disease expert, is also accompanying the group.
As the journey continues we slowly learn that all is not what it seems, and that none of the characters is telling the whole truth. MacLean meticulously obliterates the lines defining exactly which characters are the good guys and which are the bad. As the story winds down, the cunningly devious nature of the plan is finally revealed.
Nevada was a territory for less than four years, from 1861-64. It became a state in October 1864, and the first transcontinental railroad was completed nearly five years later, in May 1869. [ Disease outbreak was Diphtheria, not Cholera ]
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