cover image Crows Over a Wheatfield

Crows Over a Wheatfield

Paula Sharp. Hyperion Books, $30.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-6117-0

Sharp's new novel about domestic violence may seem a radical departure from the warm, often ribald family stories found in her earlier books, Lost in Jersey City and The Woman Who Was Not All There. Her characters here are as splendidly realized as before, and rendered with insight and humor, as Sharp tackles this serious subject with the legal expertise gleaned from her career as a criminal attorney. She weaves a highly suspenseful, complicated plot paced with unflagging narrative momentum and enhanced with telling details. The story brings together two women--New York judge Melanie Ratleer and idealistic social activist Mildred Steck--who have endured domestic violence. Spanning a period of 40 years, the novel begins in rural Wisconsin in the 1950s, where Melanie, her stepmother and half-brother, Matt, live under the shadow of her father's tyranny. Joel Ratleer is a renowned criminal attorney, but he brutally abuses his family, especially Matt, until the boy has a mental breakdown. Eventually, Matt finds shelter at a halfway house established by Mildred's father. When it is discovered that Mildred's husband, Daniel, is torturing their young son, Mildred flees with the boy after a fatuous judge seems ready to award custody to the viciously mendacious Daniel. Still on the lam, Mildred begins an underground railroad to help other families victimized by violence and legal ineptitude. Communicating with Melanie via the Internet, she pulls her into another case involving a woman who has fled an abusive but socially powerful husband. The court scenes in this novel bristle with the interaction of the participants' personalities; they are riveting. From start to finish, this is an emotionally involving story whose powerful message is commensurate with the social problem it illustrates with gripping accuracy. Major ad/promo; Italian and Spanish rights sold; author tour. (Aug.)