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THE PRAIRIE GRASS MURDERS

By Patricia Stoltey

Five Star, Feb. 2007 ($25.95)
ISBN:1-59414-541-5

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

Willie Grisseljon just wanted to take a walk in the countryside and visit the Illinois farm where he grew up. He soon found that, while you CAN go home again, you might not like what you find there. While soaking his feet in a stream he finds a shoe sticking out from a pile of rubble and torn-out prairie grass. The shoe has a foot inside, and the foot is attached to a body. On his way to get help he encounters a deputy sheriff who, instead of looking for the alleged corpse, dumps Willie in the local psych ward, telling the attendant the poor boy is a delusional derelict. Willie finally manages to convince the hospital personnel that he is not crazy, and they let him call his sister, Sylvia Thorn, a Florida circuit court judge. Sylvia, whose role as little sister was reversed after Willie came back from Vietnam with PTSD, immediately drops everything and flies to the rescue. She expects to return home the next day, but her expectations are wrong.

Willie insists on proving to the authorities that the body was real. When evidence suggests that the victim might be one of Sylvia's old high school flames, she reluctantly agrees to help Willie in his quest. The sheriff believes Willie. That lawman, Trace Parker, is also one of Sylvia's high school sweethearts - hey, it's a small town. There are still sparks between the two. Willie, who didn't like Trace when they were teenagers, still doesn't approve of any kind of romantic attachment, but Sylvia's all grown up now and can make her own decisions.

The body is found, even though more debris had been piled over his resting place since the original discovery. He is identified as Clay Taylor, an environmentalist who'd been trying to create a nature preserve on the land once owned by the Grisseljons, now owned by Taylor's wife. He'd butted heads with other land owners who wanted to have the land sub-divided for residential development. One of those heads belonged to his wife.

It's soon apparent that there are shady dealings going on in Sangamon City, and some powerful people are involved. Sylvia and Willie find out those people don't approve of their digging around in local affairs. Sylvia finds herself on the wrong end of a gun on more than one occasion. No damsel in distress, she uses her wits to get out of trouble. Brother Willie, who has a close bond with his sister, uses his intuition to help her.

This is Ms. Stoltey's first published novel, and an impressive debut it is. I really like the relationship between Sylvia and Willie; each is supportive of the other, and protective when it's called for. The writing is crisp, the dialogue natural, the setting vividly described. I look forward to reading more from this author.

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