It's 1873. A gunslinger thrown out of Fort Laramie hooks up with a veteran prospector and heads for the Idaho territory and adventure.
Buell Mace is two different people. Most of the time, he’s patient, laconic, rational, cool-headed, and susceptible, though maybe at a lower level, to all the appetites and passions that inspire everyone else. Every once in a while, though, his guilt at what he considers his killing of his mother in childbirth takes over, and then it’s another story. Soon after a spate of guilt-induced violence separates him from his old friend Simon Steele and forces him into the wilderness, he meets ugly, grimy Arley Hill, and the two of them decide to join their fortunes. When Arley asks, “You got a problem with the Army?” Buell predictably replies, “It’s not me, it’s them.” Violent outbursts punctuate their journey to Idaho City—sometimes it seems that killing is Buell’s default solution to conflict—where they’re plunged into the middle of the running battle between maternal saloonkeeper Emma Traen and her partner, Piers Modine, who’s seeking control of a gold mine Emma works with the help of organizer Yung Wing and the Chinese workers he supplies. Modine doesn’t mind using Farris Waystead, a disgraced doctor who’s still good with a knife, to promote his interests, and it’s clear that sooner or later Buell, his judgment subject to both festering guilt and the complicated feelings Emma arouses in him, and Emma’s tormenters will go up against each other. Few readers, however, will predict the twist that follows the climactic spasm of violence.
A sturdy oater with more ambitious but less convincing psychopathological overtones.