JUDGMENT DAY: A True Story by Bob & B. C. Hall Lancaster
Kirkus Star


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A hundred miles north-northwest of Kansas City, ""the circular horizon is. . . a bluegreen seam where tall corn meets cloudless sky"" and Nodaway County highway V rolls through huge saucers of rich farmland to the very heart of America: Skidmore, a two-street town without a skyline where, in July of 1981, a ""brief, terrible drama"" was played out. On Main Street, in broad daylight, in full view of much of the town's population, Ken Rex McElroy was shot to death in his pickup truck. But investigators have given up on the case, because the folks in Skidmore just won't talk. And after all the fact-finding, Ken Rex is still there, ""dead as hell and pressing the question: What does it mean?"" We are unlikely to find a more thoughtful attempt at answering that question than Lancaster and Hall provide, or a more clearly etched image of the ""enameled porcelain"" landscape that formed the backdrop for tragedy. Born the twelfth of thirteen children, a sixth-grade dropout, Ken Rex was the town bully and then some for over 20 years, charged with offenses ranging from rape to arson to cattle rustling. His cases rarely came to trial--witnesses tended to get uncooperative after their houses burned down--and he never served a day in jail. When Ken Rex was finally sentenced for ""assault"" (he'd shot, in the throat, a grocer who accused his daughter of shoplifting), Skidmore rejoiced, but feared he'd wreak a ""terrible, culminating vengeance"" while out on bail pending appeal. A town meeting at the Legion Hall led to an apparently unplanned stare-down with Ken Rex in Skidmore's only bar, and then to shots from a high-powered rifle in the street outside. If the people of Skidmore had been more savvy, say Lancaster and Hall, they'd have done more deploring and expressing of shock, regardless of what they felt. But the townspeople refused to ""play the contrition game,"" and Ken Rex's killer remains unidentified, though Lancaster and Hall offer one intriguing line of speculation. What did it all mean? Perhaps, at some level, especially as he slowed a step or two in his forties, Ken Rex had been looking for that showdown all along, and Skidmore finally obliged him by assuming ""the shape of the opposing character in the drama the fates had decreed."" The shooting, thus, became the moment ""when the fading influence of a man [was] transmuted into the enduring influence of a legend."" In the end, Skidmore didn't win at all; it was, at best, a draw. Haunting, evocative, and as real as prairie dust--a crackerjack book.

Pub Date: July 14th, 1983
Publisher: Seaview/Putnam