In turn-of-the-century San Francisco, Lorna Davidson is a feisty, independent schoolteacher whose lifelong ambition is to go to China as a missionary. Since that is deemed an unfit occupation for a young, single female, she opts for the next best thing and goes west to join the Presbyterian Mission Home. The Mission rescues young Chinese girls who are being sold in illegal slave auctions to serve primarily as prostitutes.
Almost immediately, Lorna is exposed to every sordid vice that thrives on the Barbary Coast. One of the most profitable vices is gambling, and one of the most notorious gamblers is Johnny Black. Tall and handsome with more than his share of intelligence and charm, Johnny Black woos and wins Lorna. He has competition, however, in union organizer Connor MacDiarmond.
The author has thoroughly researched the time and setting. Based partly on fact, this is a fascinating fictional portrait of the end of the lawless West. The main characters, including the heroine, have unexpected flaws as well as virtues. Burrows is a spellbinding storyteller. Her description of the Great Earthquake of 1906 is vivid and engrossing. The reader is swept along at a fast, cannot-put-down pace.