The creator of V.I. Warshawski (Fire Sale, 2005, etc.) tells the story of three deep-rooted farm families in Lawrence, Kan., whose troubled interactions seem to recapitulate the state’s violent history.
The families include the fundamentalist Schapens, in this generation represented by matriarch Myra, her deputy-sheriff son, Arnie, and his boys Junior, a football bully, and Robbie, his favorite target; the left-liberal Grelliers, represented by Jim and Susan and their children Chip (né Etienne), 18, and Lara, 15; and the lordly Fremantles, who were the town’s first family but in this generation are all but gone. Trouble seems to begin with two new arrivals to the community: Gina Haring, the recently divorced niece of John Fremantle’s late wife, invited to live in his home, and Nasya, the solid red calf Robbie’s bred who could just turn out to become the ritual sacrifice necessary for the Jewish dream of establishing the Second Temple in Jerusalem. (Note: Ancient Jewish prophecy states that the Second Temple, destroyed in 70 CE, can be rebuilt only under the direction of a rabbi purified by the ashes of an unblemished red cow sacrificed at three years of age; Christian prophecy, meanwhile, states that the Second Coming won't happen until the destruction of this Second Temple.) Gina encourages Susan Grellier, already reviled on Myra Schapen’s vitriolic right-wing blog for her experiments in organic farming and communal marketing, to join her circle of Wicca dancers. Over at the Schapens, a trio of rabbis keeps checking up on Nasya to make sure she’s still unblemished and worthy of being sacrificed, and Robbie finally confesses his love to Lara Grellier. Paretsky expands this family saga in two ways. She broadens its scope to include contemporary conflicts over the Iraq war, and she adds just enough historical retrospective, in the form of extracts from the diary Abigail Grellier kept from 1855 to 1863, to show that the irruption of Gina Haring and Nasya the golden calf didn’t so much create conflict as expose fault lines that had run through the community from the beginning.
Big, ambitious and heartfelt. If it’s less fully achieved than V.I.’s adventures, Paretsky’s fans will probably devour it anyway.