The last novel in Stirling's drama, drenched rural trilogy, set in 19th-century Scotland, again features doughty women, either smoldering with passion's banked fires, or soldiering on in bone-crushing toil to survive and eventually triumph. Clutching her baby daughter (sired during a brief affair with a man now dead), Elspeth, the foundling raised by an ex-drover's woman, is on the run from husband James Moodie--who is also her father! Eventually the elegant Elspeth will be hauling coal deep in the Abbeyfield mine--a hellish pit of dust and sweat and naked adults and children. While Elspeth works with her adopted miner's family, the Abbeyfield manager, shrewd Keir Bolderton, plots to outwit the foppish mine owner: and Elspeth's sister Anna, back at their village, still dreams that her former titled lover, the local laird, will someday marry her. Paths from the past cross: Keir discovers that he's been courting the sister of Elspeth's husband (a recent suicide) and learns then of Elspeth-the-hauler's identity; meanwhile, Elspeth stumbles on Matt, Anna's runaway husband, wanted (unjustly) for murder: and a good portion of the laird's family fortune is bilked by the Abbeyfield mine owner. There'll be a mine disaster, shippings-out, and lost illusions before two stubborn Scots--who are equal in the power both to deceive and love--pair off. At last Anna will find that a sensible marriage can be a satisfaction. As in her other novels, Stifling has back-dropped her country-bred, laboring women with unobtrusively researched period authenticity--and with a surrounding cast of villagers, both solid and straying, and tough as oatcakes. An unusually robust trilogy about love and bootstrap labors.