A third outing for Wright is set, like the others, in the farm land around Branbury, Vermont (Harvest of Bones, 1998, etc.), where Moira and Stan Earthrowl struggle to make a living from the apple orchard that’s overseen by Rufus Barrow, whose grandfather once owned it. The Earthrowls, still mourning the death of their daughter Carol in a car accident, welcome a visit from Stan’s unhappy niece Opal. The discontent has spread to the adjoining dairy farm, where Ruth Willmark, a hardworking woman deserted by her husband Pete, lives with her young son Vic and her daughter Emily, whose after-school labors at the Earthrowls’ orchard are enlivened by her crush on apple picker Adam Golding. Strange happenings abound, none of them good. A poison spray indirectly kills Bartholomew, the oldest of the Jamaican pickers; trees are slashed, maggots let loose, the tractor brakes sabotaged. Meantime, Stan has yet another problem: Cassandra Wickham, his enemy on the school board and elsewhere. Cassandra is a disciple of the Reverend Michael Turnbull, head of the tiny anti-abortion group he calls Messengers of St. Dorothea. When Cassandra is hit and killed by a car, driver unknown, Stan is a suspect. The pressure drives him to a heart attack, while Emily’s infatuation leads to another tragedy.
Culprits for all sins, large and small, are eventually identified, but the sprawling plot lacks focus and suspense. The affectionately detailed farm lore is a plus for those interested.