Robak's Witch: A Dan Robak Mystery

Joe L. Hensley, Author St. Martin's Press $21.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-15642-8
Hensley (Grim City; Robak's Run) delivers a tale rich in mystery and the ways of rural Indiana. Recovering from a gunshot wound to the stomach and struggling with a separation from his wife and son, attorney Don Robak, soon to be judge, takes on the case of Bertha Jones, an herbalist who lives in a trailer park who is accused of poisoning her teenage niece and nephew, Mary and Jim, with nicotine. The townspeople are ready to lynch the woman they consider a witch, as well as her local attorney, Kevin Smalley, a gay man who only recently came out of the closet. Leading the pack of hate-mongers is Reverend Allwell of the Church of the Survival, who became hysterical at the sight of the two children thrashing about in their death agonies. The trailer park is a seething cauldron of enmities, including another minister who thinks Allwell burned down his church. Robak makes little progress until he starts questioning the children who play on the hillside near Allwell's church. Robak must also contend with the mindless yet dangerous fanaticism of religious and military groups carrying on a guerrilla war with the government. Narrated in direct prose but filled with uniquely voiced characters, Robak's tale begins slowly but builds to a series of surprising reversals, bringing him face to face with a family bent on revenge. Not satisfied with the usual ending of a mystery, Hensley sketches the changes in the characters' lives in a conclusion that offers truly satisfying closure. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/30/1997
Release date: 07/01/1997
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