Wheeler's forte is big, character-rich tales of the last days of the West (Cashbox, 1994, etc.), and this one--his 29th novel--is no exception. Goldfield, Nev., was the scene of the last great American gold rush in the first decade of the 20th century; here, the story follows the interwoven fortunes of a dozen typical boomers- -most especially that of Maude Arbuckle, a feisty woman with a knack for finding gold, whose lazy drunk of a husband, Harry, seems to handle good and bad fortune with equally ill grace. Maude and Harry own a claim that has just begun to produce high- grade ore. But Harry, unfortunately, has neglected to do the minimum to preserve the claim. A benevolent geologist, Hannibal Dash, wards off the claim-jumpers (with a hand from Wyatt and Virgil Earp, probably the best-known of the real-life characters who make cameos). Finally successful, Harry begins to spend his fortune like a drunken sailor. At the same time, we follow the careers of Big Sam Jones, a con man trading wildcat mine stock; Delia Favor, a gold-digger of another sort who comes to town in search of a rich husband; a whore named Daisy, who hopes to earn enough to save her embezzling husband back in San Francisco; and Olympus Prinz, a crusading newspaper editor. The story follows these characters up to the time when the energy of the gold rush comes to be diverted into the hands of conglomerates buying up the mines. Wheeler paints with a broad brush and isn't likely to be singled out for the grace of his prose. Still, he tells a crisp story that packs an undeniable punch--as in this well- constructed, large-scale American historical.