In this tale of passion and power set in 1868-1882 South Africa--during British/Boer conflicts and the diamond rush--Masterton (Rich, Man of Destiny) exploits his considerable strengths: his ability to plunge into the peculiar energy of a period locale while retaining a warm-blooded humanity; his sleek, agile narrative movement; and his laser penetration to the cold heart of greed. The novel's prelude introduces the fateful ""Natalia Star,"" an immense diamond willed to English Peter Ransome after the death of his mother Natalia. And then the story moves back in time to Peter's real father, Barney Blitz, who leaves the Hester Street ghetto after his mad, widowed mother's suicide--following older brother Joel (who deserted them) to South Africa. But Joel's farm is now owned by a drunken Portuguese aristocrat on the run, for whom Barney will operate the farm--after a 700 mile trek via ox cart with Boer guide de Koker; meanwhile Barney becomes savvy to the disadvantages of being Jewish, doffs his yarmulka, Gentiles himself into the drear family of attractive Agnes Knight. Then he discovers Joel at last, near death, sentenced by British justice to being ""pegged out"" on an ant bill. And Barney's virtuoso rescue of Joel establishes the rhythm of a ruinous fraternal relationship--in which Joel, loving yet hating the brother who ""assumes"" he's superior, who clubs him with forgiveness, gambles away their money, cheats, loses their diamond claim . . . and even rapes the woman Barney is about to marry: the lovely half-caste Natalia. Yet again Barney will save Joel's life--and lose Natalia; Natalia will marry an English clergyman who adopts son Peter; Barney goes off to court brittle, upperclass Sara; and Joel now discovers the Diamond (even cutting open his leg to hide it)--which will glitter from hand to hand through a death-trek by Barney, Sara, Joel, and de Koker . . . to a final betrayal. The third South Africa-diamond saga this year (all from Morrow)--and perhaps the best, even zestier than Alan Scholefield's The Stone flower: a gleaming adventure, sharply faceted with splendid period background, diamond-mining details, and rapacity that could cut glass.