Notable for its sense of place, this adventure yarn--set in the vicinity of a small Colorado mountain town--centers on the search for a missing woman. Though it has some loose ends, its fully-rendered mise en scÇne more than fulfills the promise of Nelson's first, Cold Wind River (1980). Neil Shanks, fascinated by gold-mining--the "blood-lust [that] could stir so many people to such feverish action"--goes west to Gold Hill, once a boom town, to find out more about Thomas Shanks, his great-grandfather. Neil--who wants "a clearer version of events. . .because any man's footing in the world depended upon the truth"--gets sidetracked by a present-day mystery when Becky Carlsson, wife of the violence-prone boozer Finn, disappears during elk-hunting season. Central to the ensuing womanhunt are Ed Wainwright, the distracted married sheriff in the middle of an affair; Aurey Vallejos, an educated loner who tracks Becky high into the mountains; Becky's sister Lorraine, who accompanies Vallejos on the search; the McGradys, small-town gossips who run the local paper; and a number of necessary but minor characters. Under the tutelage of Neil, Becky had been reading and learning about life's possibilities before her disappearance, so suspicion centers on Neil (is he her lover? is the disappearance staged?) and on Finn (did he discover her hidden books, suspect an affair, and murder her in a fit of jealousy?). Becky's fate remains inconclusive, but most of the other characters discover a good deal about themselves before the search ends: "The future could be changed, and the present too." The book casts its net so wide that some characters inevitably get lost in the flow of events, but this is a sure-footed, solid novel, especially vivid in its evocation of astringent western landscapes.