Porter's hard-cover debut is a rollicking tale from Wall Street's turbulent past, which manages to make Jim Fire and Jay Gould--two of the post-Civil War era's consensus villains--plausibly sympathetic characters. A vivid, fast-paced narrative that's faithful to the freebooting spirit of the Gilded Age. As the nonstop action opens, Fisk and Gould, the unlikely proprietors of the Erie Railroad, flee their Manhattan headquarters for New Jersey to put themselves beyond the legal reach of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The absconders have bilked the commodore (who wants to add their line to his New York Central) with $8 million worth of watered stock. But even in trans-Hudson exile, the silver-tongued, Falstaffian Fisk can. not escape the woman he left behind, demimondaine Josie Mansfield. By contrast, Gould (a shy financial genius and family man) finds true love when he's smitten by divorcÃ‰e Annabelle Stokes, sister-in-law of President-elect Ulysses S. Grant. Having momentarily bested their still determined adversary, the oddly coupled partners return to New York, where Gould, now conducting a passionate affair with Annabelle, plots a gold market coup based in part on her White House ties. While the scheme ultimately fails, Gould makes a killing by selling bullion short at the eleventh hour. The resultant crash triggers a nationwide economic slump, however, and Vanderbilt (also a victim of the speculative binge) resumes his pursuit of the Erie. In the meantime, Fisk (who has indulged his show-biz bent by acquiring an opera house) becomes the target of a blackmail campaign by Josie and her new lover, Ned Stokes (Annabelle's ex-husband). Challenging the mercenary pair in court, Fisk wins his case, only to be shot dead by an enraged Stokes. Deprived of his flamboyant associate's talents as an outside man, a guilt-ridden Gould (who reluctantly breaks with Annabelle) contrives one last intrigue that denies Vanderbilt control of the Erie. At the close, he's leaving to join forces with Russell Sage and fulfill his abiding ambition to create a coast-to-coast railroad by taking a position in Union Pacific shares. A splendidly Dickensian period piece, chock-full of life, its sorrows, and consequential conflicts.