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On Bleeding Kansas

Bestseller Paretsky, who has tackled weighty issues in her V.I. Warshawski detective series (e.g., the Holocaust in Total Recall), weaves a gripping contemporary novel around three farm families—the Grelliers, Fremantles and Schapens—that can trace their Kaw Valley, Kans., roots back to the 1850s, a time of violent clashes between antislavery and proslavery forces in “Bleeding Kansas.” Their shared history is no buffer against the storm of changes that begin with the arrival of Gina Haring, a lesbian Wiccan. Chip Grellier, after being expelled from high school, enlists in the army and is killed in Iraq with devastating effects on his family. The Schapens’ fundamentalist doctrines come to the fore when they discover “a perfect red heifer” in their dairy herd that may be a path to riches as well as to the second coming. Meanwhile, Gina stirs prejudices and passions to a fever pitch. Paretsky taps a different vein and strikes gold in this timely tale of fear and conflict in heartland America. — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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