cover image THE WHEAT FIELD


Steve Thayer, . . Putnam, $24.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14841-5

Shockwaves rock a 1960s small town when the grisly shotgun murder of two leading citizens sets the town's deputy sheriff against the sheriff and the politically powerful Gunn Club set. Deputy Pliny Pennington has carried a torch for Maggie Butler since their Kickapoo Falls, Wis., high school days, though she scornfully rejected him in favor of boys higher up the social ladder. When she is found in the middle of a wheat field with her face blown off beside her dead husband, Michael, Pliney is assigned the case and is promptly targeted by sinister forces intent on framing him for the murders. Shaken by the killings, a state cop admits to joining Maggie and Michael in sex games; Senate candidate Webster Sprague and his wife, Caren, were involved, too. Events get complex when Caren, who's seemingly run away with lots of Webster's money, calls Pliny long distance and feeds him clues that lead to sex film tapes giving leverage over Webster and perhaps revealing the killer in the wheat field. But just as Pliny gets close to a solution, he finds himself set up to take the fall for an even more heinous crime than the double murder, one linked to the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy presidential race. Though the political connection is less than credible, Thayer has a knack for building tension and defining place, and his smalltown sinners are all too believable. The spectacular ending is only slightly marred by the questionable plot device that gets Pliny there. Agent, Elaine Koster. (Mar.)