A deceptively leisurely, intensely heart-rending historical Western about greed and love gone wrong, set in the Sand Hills of Nebraska 10 years after the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre of the Lakota Sioux at the Pine Ridge Reservation in nearby South Dakota.
Hoping to reunite his family and win back his wife, Dulcinea, rancher J.B. Bennett is on his way to retrieve his older son, Cullen, from his father, Drum, who has raised the 19-year-old for 10 years. When J.B. stops to examine the body of a recently strangled young Lakota Sioux named Star, someone he evidently knows shoots him dead. Down-and-out cowboy Ry Graver stumbles across the bodies and is also shot, but only wounded, by the same or perhaps another unseen assailant. Soon Dulcinea returns to the ranch, hoping to rebuild her relationships with Cullen and his 15-year-old brother, Hayward, who was raised by J.B. after Drum took Cullen and Dulcinea left for reasons that emerge slowly and make cruel sense only within the context of Drum’s belief in his family’s destiny. Dulcinea hires a creepily attractive lawyer, Percival Chance, to prove J.B. deeded the ranch to her and hires Graver to help her manage the farm. Dulcinea’s best friend is Star’s sister Rose, whom she met while teaching at Pine Ridge. Both want to learn the murderer’s identity, but while Rose wants revenge and believes the killings have to do with Wounded Knee—Agee (The River Wife, 2007, etc.) doesn’t scrimp on gruesome detail in recounting the massacre attended by most of the novel’s male characters—Dulcinea fears that the guilty party is someone she cares about. Meanwhile, local ranchers itching to sell their oil drilling rights pressure Dulcinea to go along. She resists; Rose and Dulcinea are women strong enough to cow John Wayne.
This sexy, violent, intricate Western is ultimately a love letter to the Sand Hills, “where all was alive, all living, in one form or another.”