Though recent publicity may make this L'Amour's best-selling book (his 78th), it's too long and ambitious to show him at his clipped, unsentimental best. The story begins in Cornwall, England, as coal miner Tom Trevallion uproots his small family, sells his house, and retrieves a few doubloons from a sunken ship to finance a move to America and a shot at the California gold rush. But as they are outfitting for the big trek west in Missouri, thieves kill Tom's wife and steal his gold doubloons. And then, when Tom and son Val and little orphan Grita Redaway join a wagon train moving toward the Rockies, the same villains kill Tom, so Val and Grita winter together as orphans in a cabin. Ten years pass: Val is now a top place-miner, all ""rawhide and iron"" and revenge-haunted, a bitter drifter devoted to killing those varmints who slew his folks. He dispatches most of them, but there's still the gang's nameless leader and his sadistic hired sidekick (Ax Clean-Cutter, the fastest gun in the West) to be dealt with. And meanwhile Val is hired to assess silver ore and seams in various mines, which involves him in stock-buying power plays among real historical mining figures. Eventually, after mule-selling action (killing rustlers) and Grita's return from the Continent (she's now an actress and a mine-owner), Val and Grita are trapped in amine by their nameless, lifelong nemesis--who has a way with dynamite. Can miner Val dig their way out? And then outdraw Ax Clean-Cutter? And will he strike it rich? L'Amour's stereotype characters can't really support such a long, saga-like epic; and his hard-working pulp too often seems like L'Amour's Labour's Lost. But fans will find the basic L'Amour style in good working order, while newcomers may hang in there out of curiosity. . . and then, one hopes, turn to his shorter, truer Westerns.