From the widely praised author of the FBI Special Agent Ana Grey series and A Star for Mrs. Blake, this riveting epic drama follows the Kusek family from New York City to America's heartland, where they are caught up in the panic of McCarthyism, a smear campaign, a sensational trial, and, ultimately, murder.
Calvin Kusek, a WWII pilot and attorney, and his wife, Betsy, escape the 1950s conformity of New York City to relocate to a close-knit town in South Dakota. They settle on a ranch and Betsy becomes a visiting nurse, befriending a quirky assortment of rural characters. Their children, Jo and her brother Lance, grow up caring for animals and riding rodeo. Life isn't easy, but it is full and rewarding. When a seat in the State Assembly becomes available, Cal jumps at the chance to repay the community and serves three popular terms.
Things change when Cal runs for the U.S. Senate. The FBI investigates Betsy, and a youthful dalliance with the Communist Party surfaces to haunt the Kuseks. Mass hysteria takes over, inflamed by Cal's political enemies. Driven by fear and hate, their neighbors turn, condemning them as enemies and spies. The American Dream falls apart overnight as the Kuseks try to protect their children from the nightmare that follows. The family is vindicated in a successful libel lawsuit, but the story doesn't end there: years later, Lance Kusek and his wife and son are brutally attacked, and the mystery then unfolds as to who committed this coldblooded murder, and are they related to the stunning events of decades earlier?
Smith's terrific new novel opens with a brutal 1985 attack on a family in a small South Dakota town, then flashes back to 1950 when the husband (a WWII pilot) and his wife first left New York City with their two small children for a new life in Rapid City, Iowa. Cal and Betsy Kusek, invited west by a fellow veteran and sponsored by his parents, appreciate the hospitality, but the virulent fear of communism just being a Democrat raises suspicion among the locals shocks them. Although he's an attorney, Cal builds a ranch while Betsy helps the local doctor as a visiting nurse. She worries, though, that her flirtation with the Communist Party will hinder Cal's burgeoning political career. Smith illuminates the force of McCarthyism-generated fear in the Midwest and effectively personalizes it through the persecution the Kusak family endures for their liberal beliefs. The author also skillfully ties together the two time periods, avoiding melodrama.