Richard A. Thompson
Poisoned Pen, Jan 1 2011, $24.95
As summer ends in 1919 on the Great Plains, Charlie Krueger is one of a horde of migrant workers who travel from farm to farm harvesting the Big Wheat grown on the prairie. The invention of the threshing machine has changed harvesting, but not the bands of travelers working the land.
Mechanically inclined Charlie fled his hometown in North Dakota when he was jilted by Mabel Boyson who grew up three farms over from his family’s spread. Charlie saw them as Romeo and Juliet though his father saw him as worthless trash. When Mabel informed him she was pregnant, he was about to propose when she said now Harold Bow will have to marry her. He left for the road of the migrant farm worker unaware that back home The Windmill Man serial killer murdered Mabel to water the earth with blood and that the locals including his father assume Charlie ran because he murdered her. Now the Windmill Man has followed Charlie with a rash of homicides; Charlie is a target for bleeding in Kansas in case he knows who the predatory psychopath is.
The serial killer subplot is deftly handled, but what makes this a superior read is the close look at life on the Great Plains just after WWI at a time when technology changes a way of life. The migrant farm work even with the thresher is tediously back-breaking, dangerous to limbs, and lonely. Charlie is terrific as he holds the insightful story line together in what is a great opening act for 2011 as Richard A. Thompson provides a fabulous historical.