A crowded, lively, scenic, wide-gauge (890 pp.) portrait of a mid-19th-century American railroad baron. The man of destiny...



A crowded, lively, scenic, wide-gauge (890 pp.) portrait of a mid-19th-century American railroad baron. The man of destiny is Collis Edmond, son of a self-made Manhattan banker--and his dream of building a transcontinental railroad will shunt him to fame (and tragedy) before his Sierra Pacific Company (read Central Pacific) joins tracks with the Union Pacific in 1869. Throughout, Masterton (Rich) runs spike-by-tie with historical fact, using convincing financial dealings to ground the fanciful particulars. Collis has his first iron-horse epiphany in steamy, fever-ridden Panama as he contemplates the train waiting to take West Coast passengers across to Pacific ships: ""it was the sideshow to bear Collis away to the rest of his life."" Also in Panama, Collis ties himself irrevocably to married Hannah West: he refuses to leave her when yellow fever strikes, and Hannah makes a miraculous recovery. But there will always be other women for Collis: Delphine Spooner of Manhattan, who will turn to prostitution mainly because of his rejection; heiress Sarah Medford, daughter of a San Francisco millionaire, who narrowly escapes opium addiction after one of Collis' blackmail capers; lusty brothel-keeper Maria Mamuska; plus--the memory of a young Irish prostitute whom Collis unintentionally sent to her death. No romance, however, will distract Collis from his mighty dream: he arrives in 1857 San Francisco with no money--none, that is, until some crooked methods get underway. And, once teamed with brilliant, thoroughly decent engineer Theodore Jones, Collis steams ahead, using partnership in a Sacramento hardware business as a temporary base and winning over the Chinese labor force. (One of his Chinese business associates murders Hannah's husband--a dreadful favor Collis didn't seek.) There's backroom and back-street chicanery galore--from arson and blackmail to misrepresentation on maps. But, while enjoying the vigor of Collis' railroad mania, Masterson also heaps up the tragic victims of his hero's obsession--including, finally, Hannah herself. . . who dies after a bungled abortion. All in all, it's the infectious tale of a highminded rogue--told with just the right period bustle, wheeler-dealer bounce, and darkly ironic undercurrent.

Pub Date: May 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1981