As he shows here once more, the prolific Estleman (Billy Gashade, 1997, etc.) has no rival--not even Louis L'Amour--in evoking the American Southwest. With hard-rubbed dialogue as bright as a new-minted Indian-head penny, this latest epic is narrated by the alchemist Francisco de la Zaragoza, Viceroy in Absentia, Durango, Mexico- -who just happens to be 129 years old. The viceroy's tale chronicles the life of his sometime friend and yarn-swapper Sheriff Pat Garrett, who killed Billy Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid. The book's title is taken from La Jornada del Muerto, a long, sun-hammered passage of white sand trickling through the New Mexico desert like an alchemist's athanor, where the blood bubbles and human clay might perhaps turn to gold if the spirit were pure enough. Despite that, the invincible Pat Garrett's whole life could be viewed as a kind of sun-baked torture relieved only by whiskey, the warm Spanish blood of his wife Apolinaria, and his six children, while many of the outstanding incidents of his life take place on that blazing white sand of La Jornada, including his eventual murder at age 65. The episodic story is strung together by Garrett's nightmares, during which he's visited time and again by the ghost of the 21-year-old Bonney. Vignettes include Sheriff Pat's tracking of his friend Bonney through territory after territory; Bonney's slaying; Pat's being hired to slaughter buffalo and later to protect the herds of a cattlemen's association; his fruitless tracking of the killers of Colonel Albert Fountain and his young son on La Jornada; his attempt to irrigate the dry land; and his meetings with Governor John Nance Garner and later with President Teddy Roosevelt. Style to burn, talk that haunts. Deserves blue ribbons and rosettes.