Greed, treachery, and unexpected kindness surround a power struggle over an early 20th-century gold mine in this debut novel.
Sadie Rose Wheeler believes her parents died in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. But then she receives a letter informing her that the millionaire Henry Crabtree, who has died, named her as his daughter and heir to the Crabtree Mine in Goldfield, Nevada. Like the parents who adopted her, Henry and his wife were a white-Chinese pairing. Sadie appears white but has uniquely shaped green eyes. Her ethnicity is not the only thing people try to guess about her as the young woman stubbornly manages her newly acquired gold mine alone, paying her workers in real dollars instead of scrip; supervising the dirty, dangerous operations herself; and caring about the men—in contrast to the other gold barons, who are trying to suppress another labor riot. Henry’s jealous wife, Parthena, wants the mine and employs union agitator James McKenna first to convince, then to force Sadie to sign over the land. Sadie—facing off against Parthena, McKenna, union-busting sexist capitalists, and her shady suitor, Pierce Langston—finds unexpected help in the form of a handsome opium addict named Nick Cain. Double-dealing and murder swirl around Sadie as she mourns the death of her infant son and seeks the truth about her unnamed mother, who came to America seeking the “Gum Shan”—the gold mountain—which may turn out to be something more than just where the precious metal can be found.
Though fast-moving and with an economy of description, Love’s novel evokes the danger and adventure of this clash of the Wild West and Eastern radicalism in beautiful, cinematic language that is at times reminiscent of James Dickey. (“Blue moonlight colored the whole world in loneliness”; “She peeked through her arm” at McKenna, “as if stealing a look from a familiar hiding place.”) The main characters, including villains Parthena and McKenna, are complex, with a heart lurking somewhere, while Sadie and especially Nick have their flaws. It is rather like The Grapes of Wrath meets On the Waterfront. The author researched the era’s history to use correct terminology—scrip; prostitutes’ cribs. And he spices the dialogue with a phonetic vernacular that enhances the characters without becoming distracting. The mix of humor, sarcasm, and menace among the miners and the owners, juxtaposed with tender moments between Nick and Sadie, is at turns riotously funny and heartwarming, making this a gratifying page-turner. Unfortunately, there seems to be a rush toward the conclusion, as if Love became exhausted. The evocative descriptions drop away, leaving blocks of dialogue with screenplay terms (“[silence]”). Nick’s last, fateful decision is not sufficiently developed, causing the final chapter to abruptly descend like a curtain. There are also some distracting misspellings (“light shinning”; “fill out of his chair”) and punctuation errors (“Ghosts won’t hurt you, “Nick said) that need tweaking.
A gripping historical romance/thriller with an informed political bent.