Robbing the Pillars

Written by Kalen Vaughan Johnson
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

In 1851, James MacLaren, along with his family, the widowed Althea Albright, and her son Justin, flee from Scotland and head for the California gold mines. James and his friends, Lodi Glenn and Sean Miller, become partners and pan for gold in the local streams. Meanwhile, their wives begin to build homes for their families. As the years pass, gold becomes harder to find, because of flooding and competition with the larger mining companies. James decides to settle on land near Nevada City. He buys horses to raise and sell to freight companies and stagecoach operators.

This is the first book in Ms. Johnson’s The Empire Barons series. She provides a subplot describing the build-up of a political machine and business enterprises in Sacramento that comes to influence the livelihood of the MacLaren clan and their neighbors. This well-researched novel describes how immigrants moving to California tried to become successful. At first, splitting the story between Sacramento (with different characters) and Nevada City was irritating because I enjoyed reading about MacLaren more, but by the end of the book, I understood the purpose of introducing these new characters.