Some storytellers give you just enough. Others, like Macdonald, successful in another way, leave you wanting more. His absorbing and authentic novel, set in the north of England in 1839-40, relates the fortunes of four people linked together in love and enterprise. Here is eighteen-year-old Nora, fleeing from the mills and markets of Manchester, throwing in her lot with John Stevenson, boss of a navvy gang tunneling through the earth for the advancing railroad. Her gift for figures and her 'alacrity, surpassing his own, for seizing the main chance secures for them one victory after another -- in contracting, retailing and finance. No matter that a certain amount of forgery was involved. Starting out side by side with the Stevensons are the Thorntons -- Walter, a railroad engineer whose sexual obsessions come to sour his life, and Arabella, his prudish young wife whose notions of household management would vex the most unflappable Jeeves. Unalike, but drawing what they need from each other, the Stevensons, who ""would put the crow flying overhead to their advantage,"" and the middle-class Thorntons make their way in England's thrusting industrialization. Macdonald's novel overflows with lore and information, most of it palatable (though we could do with less engineering detail). More important, it's his people who engage our interest, the minor characters too. We'd like to meet them again.