Once again Thiele projects a vivid panorama of life ""down under,"" this time focusing on the small, south Australian community of Gonunda, circa 1930, which is hometown to twelve-year-old Bode Schneider. In his last year of school and soon to join the ranks of ""horny-handed"" German farmers who have settled the area, upfront and uncomplicated Bode dips schoolgirls' pigtails into inkwells, spies on his teacher ""spooning"" in the haystacks at the Harvest Ball, and lets loose the prize bull of local powerbroker Moses Mibus in the hopes that ""Herr Von Ribentropp"" will knock up the Schneider heifers. Counterpointing all this standard Peck's-bad-boyishness is Bodo's involvement with half-crazed hermit Ebenezer Blitz who delivers wild sermons in the neighboring hills, vowing to destroy Moses Mibus for dirty-dealing him out of his farm years back. Bode finds himself squarely in the middle of an increasingly vicious feud which, through a complicated pileup of events, lands Mibus in jail, his empire literally in ashes, and Blitz in a nursing home. Thiele leaves a convincing ragged edge to his plot and avoids the trap of dispensing justice too neatly. Unfortunately, the heated rivalry between Moses and Ebenezer never moves us as it's meant to because there are no fleshed out portraits here, only quick profiles of all the characters, even Bodo. It's the background--the texture and feel of life in Gonunda--that is most keenly present; and, rather ironically, it's a remote and unconnected happening, the Depression, which ultimately has the greatest impact on Bode and the rest of the townfolk. Thus the novel adds up to more than the sum of its parts, due to Thiele's unfailing knack for catching a simpler, bygone world and pinning it down with tack-sharp observations.