Death of A Rainmaker: A Dust Bowl Mystery by Laurie Loewenstein begins in early August in the 1930s. The Dust Bowl is centered in Oklahoma where farmers are literally losing their land in every breath and gust of wind. The soil is being stripped away as is the livelihoods of the farmers and everyone who relies on them in the small community Vermillion, Oklahoma. The small county seat of Jackson County is a desperate place full of desperate people which is why they have paid a lot of money to a stranger who claims he can and will make it rain.
After 240 days without rain the locals are gathering out in a dry and baked field a little ways outside of town to see Roland Combs at work. Based on his experiences during the recent war years, he is going to fire TNT up into the skies. He promises that the explosions will bring rain. Despite the firing of twenty mortars into the cloudless heavens triggering numerous concussive blasts, no rain appears to wash away the new grit and dirt that coats all who were out gathered to see the Rainmaker at work. Though the first evening nothing happens, Roland Combs promises to keep blasting the skies every evening for the next three weeks to make it rain.
That was his plan. It didn’t happen because before the next night fell he was very much dead. He did not drown in a flood. Instead, somebody whacked him over the head and took the opportunity of a massive dust storm to make sure the deed was done and to get away.
With the Rainmaker dead, Sheriff Temple Walker has yet another problem. Not only is he up for reelection, but many people are suffering foreclosure and Sheriff Walker has to be at hand to enforce the peace at such events. He hates having to do that, but the law gives him no choice. While he is only doing his job and a few do understand that, the idea that he is helping the bank take their property does not sit well with anyone. Then there is the ongoing grief that he and his wife, Etha, feel over the loss of their young son.
For Etha the sight of a young teenager, Carmine DiNapoli, who looks so much like her son, Jack, is almost unbearable. If he had lived, he would look much like Carmine does. Carmine is arrested for murder she can’t believe it. Having spent some time around him, Etha knows in her heart he did not do it and sets about trying to prove his innocence. Doing so first causes a strain on the marriage and then begins to spread outwards as she stirs up additional dark secrets and makes Walker’s election a more distant possibility.
The truth sets some free and condemns others in this highly atmospheric mystery. Death of a Rainmaker: A Dust Bowl Mystery is complex in terms of multiple mysteries and deeply nuanced in terms of characters and setting. It quickly pulls the reader deeply into the story that also does a little history teaching along the way. Even for this reader who rarely reads a historical mystery, Death of a Rainmaker: A Dust Bowl Mystery by Laurie Loewenstein is very good. I am eagerly waiting the next installment of the series and that can’t be published soon enough.
While I rarely read historical mysteries, I enjoyed this one and put a library hold on it simply because Lesa Holstine reviewed it. That review from last October can be read here. Lesa’s interview with the author, also from last October, can be read here. You should read both pieces and follow her blog if you are not already doing so.
Death of a Rainmaker: A Dust Bowl Mystery
Kaylie Jones Books
Hardback (also available in audio and digital formats)
Material supplied by the good folks of the Dallas Public Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2019