Wild West intrigue threatens to overwhelm 1892 San Francisco, but not celebrity journalist Ambrose Bierce and his colleague and amanuensis Tom Redmond.
Reclusive train robber Oz Bird has just been released from prison, but he already seems to be wanted for every murder in California. He admits that he shot a Southern Pacific Railroad guard who was standing between him and $18,000 but denies any extralegal responsibility in a lively foreclosure procedure. In fact, he tells Tom in an interview at his secret hideout, he’d like nothing better than to kill Southern Vice President Arliff K. Potter, the executive who hired him to complete the foreclosure by rousting the purchasers of the Hungry Valley farms they’d made so productive that the railroad wanted them back. Sure enough, Potter is soon killed. But not before Col. Robbie Studely, who’s brought his Wild West Show to town, is shot down in public. Since one of Studely’s prize attractions was sharpshooter Dora Pratt, the ex-wife Studely encouraged to divorce Oz while he was in jail, there’s every reason to believe Oz killed him as well. Bierce doesn’t believe it, though, and he backs up his skepticism with some sharp-eyed detective work.
For all its snappy period color, Bierce’s fifth, cluttered with motives and killers from past and present, isn’t up to the high standard of his first four (Ambrose Bierce and the Trey of Pearls, 2003, etc.).