As most law students learn, the 1890 Supreme Court decision in re Neagle stands for the proposition that the executive power of the federal government to preserve domestic tranquility supercedes the authority of the states. One text, giving it short shrift, describes Neagle as a case ""of unknown significance."" But if the larger meaning of the case is murky, its facts are mined from a rich vein of Americana, more lore than law, and as entertaining as a fiction by Bret Hart. Lawyer Gould tells the story in detail, great detail, in his profusely illustrated book. Behind the stern, bewhiskered visages of some long-gone Californians smouldered violent passions, fueled by the fast-draw Code of the West and ""a code duello"" convenient for wiping out a political enemy. Pay attention if you want melodrama. A Southern pistolero (who in his younger days has executed a Yankee opponent in a California political fray) matures to become a judge and a power in the West. He never forsakes his trusty Bowie knife or his fierce temper, but he does fall for a sexy, crazy lady of ill repute. The lady is a client in a lawsuit to prove her bogus marriage to an elderly multimillionaire. Opposed is the pistolero's former colleague, doughty Stephen J. Field, justice of the US Supreme Court, who is protected by none other than US Marshall David Neagle. After the smoke clears, a man lies dead and Neagle resides in jail. A scant outline does nothing, of course, to portray the full operatic story. Gould does that with full flourishes. There's ""a discreet little Chinese seneschal,"" a ""most dazzling hymeneal celebration,"" as well as ""fatal adversaries"" and a surfeit of foreshadowing leading ""to bloodshed and death, to tragedy and destruction, to insanity and doom."" A good yarn, told with suitable and pleasant pomposity, by an author who enjoys his work.