Summary and book reviews of The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Last Crossing

by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Last Crossing
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 400 pages
    Jan 2005, 400 pages

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Book Summary

An epic masterpiece set in the 19th century American and Canadian West - a time when worlds collided, were destroyed and were built anew.

A No.1 bestseller in Canada and winner of the Canadian Booksellers Association's Fiction Book of the Year Award, The Last Crossing is a sweeping tale of breathtaking quests, adventurous detours, and hard-won redemption. Master-storyteller Guy Vanderhaeghe takes us on an exhilarating journey from the ivy-covered towers of Oxford in Victorian England to the dusty whiskey trading posts of the nineteenth-century American and Canadian West.

Englishmen Charles and Addington Gaunt are ordered by their tyrannical industrialist father to find their brother Simon, who has gone missing in the wilds of the American West. Charles, a disillusioned artist, and Addington, a disgraced military captain, set off to Fort Benton in America and enlist the services of a guide to lead them north, where Simon was last seen. The brothers hire the enigmatic Jerry Potts, half Blackfoot, half Scot, who suffers from his own painful past, and a colorful array of others. This unlikely posse, now encumbered with both psychological baggage and wagon trains, becomes entangled in an unfolding drama that forces each to come to terms with his or her own demons.

The Last Crossing is an epic masterpiece set in a time when worlds collided, were destroyed, and were built anew.

Chapter 1

I let myself into the house, stand looking up the stairs, turn, go into the study, pour a whisky and soda. Today's mail is waiting, envelopes on a salver. My man, Harding, has laid a fire, but I don't trouble to light it. I leave my ulster on, stand sipping from the tumbler with a gloved hand, staring at the day's letters.

I know what they are. Invitations. Invitations for a weekend in the country. Invitations to dine. More invitations than I am accustomed to receiving. Now people court me. Queer old Charlie Gaunt has become a minor, middle-aged bachelor celebrity. Even Richards and Merton, long-time acquaintances with whom I dined tonight in the Athenaeum, did not allow my new eminence to pass unremarked. For years, I was never anyone's first choice as a portrait painter, never admitted as a full member of the Royal Academy, only very lately handed the privilege of sporting the initials a.r.a. after my name. Merely an Associate. Tardy laurels finally ...

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Media Reviews

The New Yorker

The prose can be overripe, particularly in the opening chapters, and moments of historical exposition are clumsily inserted. However, the sweep of the narrative gradually overcomes these missteps, and as the various searches for revenge or redemption get under way the writing achieves unforced grace and power.

The New York Times Book Review - John Vernon

[Vanderhaeghe is] a Dickensian sensationalist. His flair for the lurid can be exquisite. . . . Epic novels can be loose, baggy monsters, but this one is stuffed with enough goodies to keep us entertained for days.

Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese

Big, satisfying . . . juicy, tough, gruesome. . . . It's been years since I picked up a fat, lurid bodice ripper, and I embarked on The Last Crossing—full of period costumes and mannered, flowery prose—buoyed by waves of nostalgia. . . . The journey itself turns out to be something new and scary, unfolding more like a gothic horror story than a classic horse opera. . . . This isn't escapist literature of an adolescent's dream, but something decidedly more bracing and grown-up.

Booklist - Keir Graff

Starred Review. Especially excellent are first-person passages in which richly individual voices give the story the pulse of life. Underlying themes are fertile the construction of identity, the lure of wildness, and the scars inflicted by civilization.

Toronto Globe and Mail - Annie Prouxl

Rarely are today's hungry readers invited to such a feast of a book…There are few writers who can encapsulate a character in a single sentence, turn a phrase or manipulate a metaphor as brilliantly as Vanderhaeghe…One of North America's best writers.

National Post

The Last Crossing is an absolutely wonderful book, the kind of literature that convinces readers the world is a vast and mythic enterprise, larger than our individual crises or triumphs…A joy to read.

London Free Press

A tour de force. Wonderfully written, suspenseful and totally absorbing, this novel must be [Vanderhaeghe's] most powerful to date…A page turner not only of epic proportions but of literary merit.

Publishers Weekly

...the book's rewards far transcend these excesses*, and no reader once embarked on this hugely involving adventure will be able to stop until it is done. *A reference to a couple of scenes that the reviewer considered non-essential and overplayed.

Kirkus Reviews

Sumptuously imagined and fashioned with a master craftsman's attentiveness and finesse. Brilliant work.

Montreal Gazette

There's no putting the book down…Masterful.

Calgary Herald

A tremendous achievement of imagination, capturing the West in all its grandeur. With its intricate layer of stories, constant surprises, unforgettable scenes and characters and dramatic landscape, Vanderhaeghe's saga is certain to resonate with readers long after they've finished the book.

Books in Canada

The Last Crossing is truly Vanderhaeghe's masterpiece.

Toronto Globe and Mail - Martin Levin

Vanderhaeghe's is an epic novel, but without the sometimes baggy sprawl the use of that word can connote; he maintains almost pitch-perfect control over five distinct narrative voices. If ‘excellence' means anything, this novel is excellent.

Edmonton Journal

The Last Crossing is an enormously rich and complex work, spanning time and place. It is an amazingly good story, and it both creates and satisfies a profound emotional need in readers. Thank you, Guy Vanderhaeghe.

Ottawa Citizen

The Last Crossing is a tale of lust, murder, revenge, shock and survival. But this is no pulp fiction. It is an arresting work of art more in the vein of Leo Tolstoy or Charles Dickens…Each characters is crafted with the care and precision of a Michelangelo sculpture. The plot grabs you in such a fierce, determined way that it is impossible, once started, to set the book aside.

Author Blurb Fact and Fiction Bookstore - Barbara Theroux
My long wait is over!! The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe is storytelling at its best. The American frontier comes to life, as does the Civil War and any other event that affects the lives of Charles and Addington Gaunt. When these two brothers are ordered to find their missing brother, an unlikely search party is formed to cover the vast ‘medicine line' frontier of Montana and Canada. McMurtry's Lonesome Dove can no longer be considered the true frontier novel!

Reader Reviews


The Last Crossing was the winner of CBC Canada Reads for 2004. It won both the panelists and The Peoples Choice awards. There is an excellent Readers Guide, video and audio excerpts on the Canada Reads website.

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