A watery, epic-aspiring novel about an Ahab-like river captain's last haul on the Rhone in 1840. The central attraction here is the water, which the author has celebrated in all its colors, conformations, moods and rhythms -- the best passages stream with atmosphere. Captain Christian Merlin's world of barges, horses and towpaths and river mastery is threatened by the advent of steam boats, the polluters, the machines of faceless money men. ""The beauty of the barge train lay in the perfect harmony of horses and men. . . on the steam boats there was nothing suggestive of life."" Crowded by the new transport which lured away his son and polluted the Rhone, Christian decides on an impossible journey upstream during a flood -- to outrun the enemy (not able to pass under the bridge); to demonstrate the superiority of these vessels; but most of alt to answer that ""voice within himself. . . a voice which spoke the river's language and ordained his route."" By the time the reader is immersed in the elements -- and this takes patience and fortitude -- he will have forecast Christian's fate. An oldstyle saga for unhurried river rats.