The Barrier contains prejudice, romance, adventure

John Gale watches soldiers building a military post on the Yukon River and thinks, “The trail ends here!”

Necia Gale, his daughter, sees Lieutenant Burrell and thinks her trail is just beginning.

old photo shows Fort Yukon from vantage point in excavated pit
                        Old Fort Yukon

The Barrier by Rex Beach
[Harper’s, 310 pp.] 1908. 1908 bestseller #2.
Project Gutenberg ebook #4082. My grade: B.

In its first chapter, The Barrier prepares readers for a romance in which the Kentuckian’s bias against non-whites will have to be overcome.

Predictably, the young people fall in love.

But prejudice is trivial compared John Gale’s problem.

Gale’s difficulties are revealed slowly while readers see the kind of man he is and speculate on what he might have done in his early years.

Stark, a saloon-keeper, and his rascally companion, Runnion, arrive in Flambeau just as “No Creek” Lee finds gold. Stark puts up a tent and by nightfall is in business taking money from those who aim to strike it rich.

photograph of gold mining operation sluices
                            Mining for gold in the Yukon

Poleon Doret, who has loved Necia for years, gets only sisterly love and a commission to find out if Burrell means to marry her.

I won’t reveal the ending which is as quarter-turn left of predictable.

Aside from Necia, the characters, too, are just unusual enough to keep readers’ full attention.

Necia, sad to say, is just a pretty face with nothing between the ears.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Predictable plot can’t spoil The Spoilers

An immediate success in 1906, Rex Beach’s The Spoilers seems shopworn today because of its overused romantic plot.

But however tired the romance, even today Beach holds readers’ interest with his fast paced, action-adventure plot.


The Spoilers by Rex Beach

1906 bestseller #8. Project Gutenberg ebook #5076. My grade: B.


First edition cover ot The Spoilers shows village at the foot of Alaskan mountain.Handsome young Roy Glenister and his older sidekick, Bill Dextry, are headed back to their Midas Mine when Helen Chester makes a dash for their ship with several sailors in hot pursuit.

The men help Helen aboard and escort her safely to Nome where she has important business.

On the trip, Roy decides he’s going to marry Helen.

She disagrees: He’s too uncouth for her tastes.

There are the usual plot complications: misunderstandings on both sides, the girl’s guardian who’s a scoundrel, the suitor who’s an even worse scoundrel, the hero’s old girl friend.

The novelty is the plot trigger: Unscrupulous politicians have devised a way to steal gold from the Alaskan mines with the blessings of the courts and the US government.

The plan is simple, looks legal, and seems to be aimed at protecting honest miners.

Beach trained as a lawyer before spending five years prospecting in Alaska. The romance didn’t happen, but the skullduggery did.

Fraud on such a scale is mesmerizing—and well worth a read.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Jubilee Trail Celebrates Women’s Strength

Garnet Cameron, newly graduated from a select New York finishing school in 1844, promptly falls head over heals for a Harvard drop-out turned prairie trader. Oliver Hale appeals to a sense of adventure Garnet never knew she had.

They marry and set off  for California, planning to return to New York the following year.

In New Orleans, Garnet engineers the escape of  a dance hall singer accused of murder who  turns up again on the wagon train west over the Jubilee Trail. Garnet and Florinda become best friends.

Once in California, Garnet has to deal with Oliver’s controlling elder brother who had planned a  politically expedient marriage for Oliver. Garnet’s hero-husband turns wimp in his brother’s shadow.

When Oliver is killed, Garnet moves in with Florinda, both working as barmaids in Los Angeles. They live through earthquakes, the US annexation of California,  Charles Hale’s attempt to abduct his late brother’s infant son, and the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.

Garnet looks for abiding love that Florinda denies exists, yet they remain fiercely loyal to each other. Both  face whatever life dishes out, tidy up, and get ready for the next challenge. Through this unlikely pair, novelist Gwen Bristow makes Jubilee Trail a  celebration of women.

The Jubilee Trail
Gwen Bristow
Thomas T. Crowell, 1950
564 pages
1950 bestseller # 8
My grade B-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni