Sarah O’Neill answered an ad for a mail order bride to get out of the East since her parents are dead and her brother has been gone for several years. She wrote to John Calloway, The Surgeon and a policeman assigned to the Mounties in Calgary. He seemed nice in his letters and she needed a place to go. She may also be able to search for her brother too.
Only when she gets off the train, she discovers that the letters weren’t from John, they were written by his men. He didn’t even know she was coming and doesn’t want a wife. He is tired and depressed because there is so little he can do as just one doctor. Now he is confronted with a woman, who says she is here to marry him. His men, it appears thought it would be funny to bring him a bride.
He thinks about sending her back, but there is nowhere to go, and she says she wants to stay. The more he gets to know her, the more he is drawn to her. Then he discovers that one of the pieces of information she told him about in her letter was the fact that she is not a virgin, having given that to a boy in a field one summer day. The men who got her letters have spread the rumor and she is an outcast to the women in this military town. John feels he must marry her and Sarah feels she has no choice.
They begin to get to know each other and start to enjoy each other’s company. However there is much to overcome. John is known as “black and white” for his rigid views and strong opinions. He sees no gray areas – things are either right or wrong. But Sarah has a secret. Her brother, Keenen, was in trouble with the law when he left. She doesn’t know if he is still in trouble, but given John’s attitude, she can’t trust him not to arrest him without finding out his story. So she keeps this secret from John while trying to find Keenan.
To complicate matters, there is a gang of murdering thieves who have been robbing and attacking local ranches. One of the ranches is the McIver spread, where Sarah learns there is a man who makes guns. Keenan was a gun maker and she fears he may be involved in this gang.
Sarah is a complicated character. On the one hand, she is a demure and polite lady who just wants to be a good wife. On the other hand, she hates just keeping house. She used to work for her father in his watchmaking business and this is what she wants to do. So while John is working long hours at the hospital, she gets a job. Even in 1890 Calgary, this is just on the side of scandalous. Other than the fact she doesn’t trust John, I liked her character.
John stars off as more of a caricature of a Mountie than a man. He is handsome, strong, quick and smart. He is also set in his ways and arrogant. Once he starts to warm up, I started to relate more to him. He had been in the service so long, he didn’t even realize his true character. Sarah brings out the best in him and helps to round him out as a man.
Life in the Canadian province is shown as gritty and real, yet not much different than life in other places. The people are fairly stereotypical of other western towns. Keenan’s character is never really developed which makes the gang-related resolution only slightly interesting. Yet it takes up a good portion of the end of the story.
The Surgeon is worth the read for the love story and a look at two characters who find themselves by getting to know each other.