In St. Adele, Michigan, the Hofer family is led by an abusive patriarch who treated his wife and two young offspring (Claire and Joey) as prisoners. A decade earlier, Reuben Hofer learned how to control people when he was interred at a nearby Civilian Public Service camp for those conscientious objectors the church refused to deal with. Those lessons in behavior he brought into his marriage and family. Thus for instance his eleven years old Claire knows that if the noise from the tractor goes silent hide as her bastard father is coming home, which most likely means punishment for no reason except his dictatorial rule. Thus, in that environs, someone could not take Reubenís heavy handed discipline any longer; that person shot and killed the martinet while he was on his tractor.
Town constable John McIntire investigates the homicide, but finds no one who had a kind word for Reuben. Additionally almost the entire town except for Dr. Gulbard, who tendered the obese ailing wife, and Father Doucet had any dealings with the Hofer brood. Johnís initial reaction is that a family member could not take it anymore; but it would have had to have been a preadolescent child as the mother could not have walked that far. However, he reconsiders his assessment when strangers from the victimís camp days and Reuben's fundamentalist sister arrive in town although no new motive surfaces.
The fourth John McIntire 1950s police procedural (see WITCH CRADLE), PAST IMPERFECT, and HUNTERíS DANCE) is a fabulous look at an impoverished family suffering from abuse just after WW II in Michigan. The key to this unique thriller is Johnís adversary Claire; a tough but frightened preadolescent protecting her younger brother and her ill ma. She proves quite a capable opponent as fans will appreciate this strong entry in one of the best 1950s series on the market today.
REVIEWED BY HARRIET KLAUSNER
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