David Wiltse, Author HEARTLANDDavid Wiltse

Wiltse's routine suspense yarn is a far cry, both geographically and dramatically, from his previous novel, the appropriately titled Blown Away, which featured a vibrant cast and a colorful New York City setting. The backdrop here is Falls City Nebr., a "scratch on the Great Plains with a population of a mere five thousand people," where Secret Service agent and Falls City native Billy Tree is recovering from a botched operation that left his partner dead and Billy severely traumatized. Settling in with his sister, Kath, Billy once again encounters his old friends and foes—all straight out of central casting. Pat Kunkel, the town's crusty sheriff, resumes his paternal friendship with Billy, who rekindles his not-quite-consummated affair with high school sweetheart, Joan, who's divorced from abusive Duane. Then there's Kath's drunken husband ("Peripatetic Stu, as Billy called him") and Huford Peck, the town's simpleminded hobo. The list goes on. It takes Billy no time at all to realize that this Norman Rockwellesque burg has—surprise—a seamy underbelly. But when a shooting takes place at the local high school, the investigation seems no more pressing than the townsfolk's assorted peccadilloes. Though Billy's renewed relationship with Joan produces a few affecting moments, it's difficult overall to empathize with him. His mocking self-pity quickly wears thin, as does his habit of assuming an Irish brogue (homage to his ancestry) in times of stress. And the novel's set pieces—action scenes making vivid use of the local landscape—are undercut by lackadaisical pacing. Wiltse's frequently florid prose and his characters' homespun philosophizing are a further hindrance—"Do you think it's just cornfields and a deranged boy with a gun? There are lives being lived here, Billy." Lives, maybe, but not a whole lot of life. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/26/2001
Release date: 03/01/2001
Mass Market Paperbound - 336 pages - 978-0-312-98287-4
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