A debut historical novel about fortunes made and lost during the silver rush of the 1850s.
McGranahan's story is set in San Francisco and Virginia City, Nevada, in 1854, covering the first major silver ore discovery in the United States, known as the Comstock Lode. The author retells history from the perspective of William Ralston—one of the most influential financiers of the period. Ralston falls in love with Louisa Thorn, a wealthy debutante, and together, they dream of transforming San Francisco into the most beautiful city in the world. However, Louisa dies suddenly before they can marry. Driven by his love for her, Ralston decides to transform San Francisco as a banker. He marries a woman named Elizabeth (who promises to help him forget about Louisa) and founds the California Bank, where he becomes the financier for the Comstock project. Water in the mines slows production, but Prussian engineer Adolph Sutro offers a solution: build a four-mile tunnel beneath the lode. At first Ralston agrees, but then his partner turns him against the idea, and Sutro spends 10 years seeking support for the tunnel. Betrayals follow, along with political intrigue, fighting between Protestant and Irish-Catholic miners, stock frenzies and bank runs, all while Ralston clings to both his marriage and a street girl named Jessie, who looks just like his deceased fiancee. Will Ralston be able to keep his life together? McGranahan's character development is superb; readers will truly care about what happens to Ralston and other main figures in the story. However, sometimes the plot loses forward momentum, and at other times, the story advances far too quickly: "Abraham Lincoln was elected president…soon after the Civil War began. The year after that…little Louisa chewed on a matchstick, became ill, and died." Still, McGranahan's writing is often evocative, displaying all the hallmarks of fine literature: "Shivering, he nodded to a boy leaning innocently against a lamppost, collar turned up and cap pulled down. The lamplighter nodded back, a little grin creasing his lips."
An often captivating story about Nevada's first silver rush, with veins of well-crafted prose, good character development and some solid storytelling.