A desert western that straddles melodrama and mainstream--as have Clarke's earlier The Homesteaders, The Copperdust Hills, and The Peralta Country. ""Richard Clarke""--the pseudonym for a well-known writer who has written 638 westerns--is, in his modest way, outclassing the late Louis L'Amour, and seems now--word for word--the best in the business. He carves out landscape with a careful likeness and handles humans and horses like familiar pieces of worn leather. In his latest, which takes place in Navajo-Mormon country, he adds a light mystical overlay that suggests the golden days of Max Brand. Ashe Colby, an Arizona Ranger, rides through the deadly Arizona Panhandle desert country seeking a huge nest of counterfeiters. When the Rigdon family of counterfeiters waylay and make him prisoner in their cabin, Colby pretends to be an outlaw looking for cover. The family--con-artist Sidney, the father of big, heart-of-lead Joseph and his cowed brother Samuel; spirit-battered wife Elizabeth; and the orphan Amilie, a tomboy virgin ""crowding nineteen""--threaten Colby with death unless he reveals where his bank-robbery caches are hidden. With Amilie's aid and a small womanish pistol she slips him, he turns the tables on the Rigdons and rides off with Amilie. But two other counterfeiters in the bush hold them captive--until once more the tables turn--and turn again and again. Counter-feiters are dug in all over the lawless countryside, and there are far more of them than any one man can handle. The big shootout takes place quite early, though, and the last quarter of the novel--quite actionless--is a still pool of reflections on character as days are spent digging graves for the villains. Compelling stuff, with quirks and oddities, though not as strong as Clarke's masterpiece, The Homesteaders.