In this novel, Adkins (Hannity’s Curse, 2009, etc.), a retired physician, imagines a young doctor’s journey to the Western frontier during the Gold Rush.
In 1849, young Daniel Todd, who’s just graduated from the Massachusetts Medical College of Harvard University, is on his way to the gold camps of California by ship when his vessel sinks in a hurricane. Alone and adrift on a piece of wreckage, he’s rescued by the whaling brig Ellie Mae. It’s through this bit of fortune that Todd begins his career in medicine—a profession that will increasingly test the faith that his reverend father fought to instill in his son. (His father’s words, “Through adversity, perhaps you will find God,” become the book’s key theme.) After a year on the Ellie Mae, “Doc” Todd, now an accomplished whaler, catches a ride on a passing clipper to San Francisco—then a ramshackle frontier town, flush with gold-rush fever. Todd eventually secures the supplies he needs and settles first in Sacramento, where he befriends a miner-turned-reverend named Simon, who’s more philosophical than devout: “Who really knows the answer?” Simon tells Daniel. Against Simon’s advice, Todd leaves for Jacksonville, a rough-and-tumble mining camp in the Oregon Territory. Here, he encounters one terrifying emergency after another, from collapsed mines to breached pregnancies to a smallpox outbreak. He also falls in love with the owner of a cook tent, a young widow named Del, who later falls ill. Adkins uses this situation to show how agonized Todd becomes by the limits of medicine, which cause him to descend into physical and mental illness. He also deftly shows how Todd’s struggle, the most important of his life, defines his journey beyond Jacksonville. Over the course of the story, Adkins draws on both his knowledge as a physician and his skill as a storyteller to portray the diagnosis and treatment of injuries such as bone fractures and many potentially life-threatening maladies. These moments are easily accessible and surprisingly enjoyable to read.
An original, well-researched novel that combines exciting plot twists with thought-provoking themes.