FINAL HARVEST: An American Tragedy by Andrew H. Malcolm

FINAL HARVEST: An American Tragedy

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Another in a growing list of true-crime essays, this telling the tragic story of a farmer, beleaguered by bad debts, and his murder of two bank officials in rural Minnesota in 1983. New York Timesman Malcolm (The Canadians) has captured the essence of a problem that is changing the face of America's heartland and sending thousands of hardworking farmers into the depths of despondency. Final Harvest is two stories in one. That of Rudy Blythe, who had pursued his dream to one day own a small-town bank and thus become a guiding force for good in his community, by being there with the loans for the industrious farmers. And that of his client, farmer Jim Jenkins, who worked hard when things were good and harder when they got bad. Then, the squeeze was on as, in the late 1970's, inflation drove interest rates up while government policies, such as grain embargoes, etc., kept farmers' income at static levels. One by one, farmers were foreclosed upon as bankers like Blythe found their own large loans in the big city banks floating upward, sometimes daily. Jenkins, caught in this squeeze, and later given a bad credit reference by Blythe when he tried to buy another farm property a few years later, set up Blythe to visit the old property by posing over the phone as a potential buyer. Thus lured, Blythe and his chief loan officer were ambushed by Jenkins and his gun-loving son, Steven. ""Blood on the Scarecrow,"" as John Cougar Mellencamp sings, was the result. Malcolm's story, engrossing for the first two-thirds, loses steam when it reaches the ensuing trial. After several days of running away, the elder Jenkins shot himself, and Steven, turning himself in, was left holding the bag. He received a 17-year prison sentence. Steven never admitted that anyone but his father pulled the trigger, and it seems a matter of some wonder that no one at the trial placed any kind of significance on the fact that it was his father, after all, who felt compelled to kill himself afterwards. Otherwise, highly involving crime literature.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1986
Publisher: Times Books