Synopsis: Violence ignited by the glitter of gold. Men desperate to strike it rich. Families and farms forsaken in a wild rush West to stake a claim. Strong men and courageous women struggle across an untamed continent to gamble their last dollar in overnight boom towns or die bush-whacked by outlaws. Some become valiant fighters in places where six-shooters keep the peace. No risk is too great, no depravity too low - when men catch gold fever and dream of quick millions, strong whiskey and wanton women.
Men answer the siren song of gold. Lonely wives fend off peril while husbands pan for nuggets. And Melissa, a red-haired Texas beauty, finds herself sold in shame by the man she loves. Former wagon master Whip Holt sets out to save her and joins Sheriff Rick Miller in a relentless search for two brutal murderers. Together they try to stem the tide of greed and violence which threatens to destroy the new American territory.
First line: Rick Miller rode out of the forest and drew his stallion to a halt at the top of a hill, where he looked down on the property his wife, Elisabeta, had inherited.
Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Bantam Books, 1984; 353 pages; received from a Book Mooch member in December 2007.
My thoughts: Several familiar characters are back in this sixth book in the Wagons West series, where the action takes place mostly in San Francisco and the Sacramento Valley during the heydays of the gold rush:
Rick Miller is now the Sheriff in San Francisco, struggling to maintain law and order while on a private vendetta to capture two renegade rapists/murderers after his wife Elisabeta falls victim to them in the opening of the book. While we watched Rick and Elisabeta fall in love in the previous book, this time around he has become a detached hardened (more than he was already) emotionless man. He grieves for Elisabeta, but the grief never really comes off the pages to touch the reader.
Danny and Heather Taylor decide to travel to California with Randy Gregg, to prospect for gold. Their plan is to be smart and while trying their luck panning for gold, to also buy some land and harvest it, so that whatever happens they have the land to fall back on. After being told by Melissa Austin that she will never marry him, Chet Harris also takes off for California and gets swept up with gold fever, and after striking it rich he lives a life of excess.
Two new characters are also introduced. Ralph Hamilton is an attorney who picks up and travels to California after being jilted by his fiancée. He has no intention of trying to find gold, but he figures there will be a need for more and more attorneys as California's population grows and it is admitted to statehood. Along the way he "adopts" an orphan, Isaiah.
Melissa and her newest beau join up with the Taylors and the Greggs to make the journey, but as soon as they arrive Melissa discovers that everything her lover has told her is a lie when he sells her to a pimp. Okay, I know they weren't called pimps in those days, but Big George runs a saloon with a stable of whores, and Melissa becomes his star attraction.
The characters all have their own separate storylines that criss cross with each other's. The writing is often clichéd and somewhat mediocre, and none of the characters have any emotional depth whatsoever. There are several deaths throughout the book, some quite violent, but since we don't really connect with any of the characters, we don't mourn those who die.
From what I learned when Googling information on the author, the books are pretty historically accurate. At times, it's more like reading a slightly dry history book than a novel. And if you're interested in the time period, then that's ok.