In the 1850s, three anti-slavery families settled next to each other in rural Kansas: the Grelliers, the Schapens, and the rich Fremantles. Seven generations later, the last of the Fremantles is gone, the Grelliers are progressive farmers, and the Schapens are belligerent fundamentalists. Gina Haring, a Wiccan lesbian from New York, housesits the Fremantle mansion, while she tries to pick up the pieces of her life. Inadvertently, she triggers a cascade of changes. Most notably, the Grellier son, at odds with his anti-war mother, enlists and is killed in Iraq, sending her into a deep depression.
Paretsky has moved her focus from her series of novels about V.I. Warshawski, a female PI in Chicago, to rural Kansas, where Paretsky grew up. It’s her take on What’s the Matter With Kansas?, the transformation of a populist anti-slavery state into a deep-red locus of reactionaries.
It’s a mostly sympathetic portrait of beleagured farmers. The main characters, Jim Grellier; his 14-year-old daughter, Lara; and Robbie Schapen, the 14-year-old misfit, are well-drawn and believable. The romance that develops between Lara and Robbie is tender and touching. The rest of the Schapens, though, are something of a caricature.