In 1903, the wilds of Montana and Alberta, Canada, and the frozen peaks of the Rockies challenged the most adventurous and experienced explorers. Only someone desperate, perhaps even mad, would dare consider them a viable escape route, but then Mary Boulton, most often referred to in Gil Adamson's suspenseful debut, The Outlander, as "the widow," is surely both.

After the death of her infant, Mary slowly begins to work her way out of a crippling depression, only to be confronted with evidence of her husband's infidelity. Alone in a desolate and friendless landscape, Mary loses her last shred of sanity and kills him, living with his body while sewing her mourning gown. Her reckless act is discovered soon enough, sending the widow fleeing across the harsh land with her twin brothers-in-law, seeking revenge, hot on her trail.

Throughout her travels the widow suffers from frightening delusions, as well as the ever-present threats of starvation and frostbite, but she presses onward and upward, making her way through treacherous mountain passes, dodging wolves, deadly arrows and capture. A host of interesting characters cross her erratic path, providing shelter, company or simply an opportunity to steal provisions, and her encounters with a notorious mountain man known as the Ridgerunner are especially compelling.

As the widow's wilderness knowledge and competence improves, so does her mental condition, and by the time she arrives in Frank, a mining town in southwest Alberta, she's nearly got a grip on her sanity. But nothing will stop her husband's brothers, and soon after the famous Frank Slide, when 74 million tons of mountain crashed to the valley below, they manage to catch up to her.

Readers will feel as breathless as Mary as they follow her frantic dash across the snow-bound mountains. Combining the best escape-over-hazardous-terrain action from novels like Cold Mountain with moody, literary prose, The Outlander is an utterly gripping debut.

Kristy Kiernan writes from South Florida and determinedly avoids all snowy mountains.

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