A newcomer to a rural Minnesota community is shot dead while raking hay.
The family Reuben Hofer leaves behind includes two downtrodden teenaged sons who are afraid of him; Claire, a dreamy, hardworking daughter, 11; his youngest child, Joey; and a morbidly obese wife who fears that her death will leave her children to Reuben’s tender mercies. Reuben grew up in a utopian community, left it to marry, then landed first in a Civilian Public Service camp for conscientious objectors and subsequently in prison. His family’s only contacts in the neighborhood seem to be their doctor and their priest. But when Reuben is killed, Township Constable John McIntire’s investigation discloses that Reuben’s wartime camp was surprisingly close to the little community and there are quite a few people in the area who knew him. While his wife is hospitalized, leaving Claire and Joey with a neighbor, the two older boys, along with Reuben’s bossy sister, take the body back to be buried in the community where the sister still lives. In their absence, the house is broken into and trashed, and a shotgun goes missing. Indian artifacts that Reuben secretly dug up during the war may have been the motive for theft. Could they have prompted murder as well?
Hills (Witch Cradle, 2006, etc.) slowly builds an enthralling portrait of life in a 1950s farming community. A distinctive and welcome addition to the genre.