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Death of a Rainmaker: A Dust Bowl Mystery


A classic murder mystery set in the 1930s Dust Bowl that portrays the era with great beauty, tenderness, and sorrowful authenticity.

$16.95 $12.71

What people are saying…

“The murder investigation allows Loewenstein to probe into the lives of proud people who would never expose their troubles to strangers. People like John Hodge, the town’s most respected lawyer, who knocks his wife around, and kindhearted Etha Jennings, who surreptitiously delivers home-cooked meals to the hobo camp outside town because one of the young Civilian Conservation Corps workers reminds her of her dead son. Loewenstein’s sensitive treatment of these dark days in the Dust Bowl era offers little humor but a whole lot of compassion.”
New York Times Book Review

“Set in Vermillion, Okla., in 1935, this superb series launch from Loewenstein . . . beautifully captures the devastation of the land and people in the dust bowl.”
Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review, Pick of the Week for October 8, 2018

“This richly detailed historical mystery brings the Dust Bowl to life, with the hardscrabble farms and semirural community barely coping with the losses of farms and local businesses. This evocative first volume in a new series should appeal to readers of Larry D. Sweazy’s ‘Marjorie Trumaine’ mysteries or Donis Casey’s Oklahoma-set ‘Alafair Tucker’ books. Fans of narrative nonfiction, including Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, the book that inspired this work, may also want to give it a try.
Library Journal, STARRED Review

“Loewenstein movingly describes the events and the people, from farm eviction auctions and hobo villages to Dish Nights at the movies. She vividly brings to life a town filled with believable characters, from a young woman learning her own worth to the deputy sheriff figuring out where his loyalties lie. This warm and evocative novel captures a time and place, with well-researched details shown through the lives and circumstances of one American town.”
Kirkus Reviews

Included in Entropy Magazine‘s October/November Small Press Roundup

Death of a Rainmaker is far more than a murder mystery set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It is a poignant recollection of the desperation of farmers whose land, livestock, and household are in foreclosure, a stunning description of a dust storm that leaves imaginary specks of dirt on the reader’s neck, a sensitive rendering of tough times and their toll on the psyche. Some books have such fine character detail—McCance’s choice of a Common Sense Traveler’s Notebook, suitable for a professional lawman, not a ‘CCC pity case,’ for example—and complex, nuanced storyline that the reader naturally slows down to savor the experience. This is one of them.”
Historical Novel Society, Editor’s Choice Selection

“Readers will be completely absorbed in the lives of Loewenstein’s characters who epitomize the extraordinary resilience of small-town folks caught in the throes of the Great Depression . . . Loewenstein manages to connect an enticing murder mystery with riveting historical fiction that places the reader directly in the dusty shoes of her characters.”
Reviewing the Evidence

“Loewenstein is establishing herself as a master of nuanced historical fiction, especially when it comes to the political infighting and swirl of intrigue around small communities in the early half of the 20th century. Loewenstein is a talented researcher with an eye for the historical detail, but also a gifted storyteller capable of breathing life into a wide cast of characters. For historical fiction readers, this is an author to watch.”
CrimeReads, One of Fall’s Best Sophomore Crime fiction selections

“This story visits the plains where the wind blows mercilessly and gives old and young dust pneumonia that most don’t survive. It’s not an easy life here, and finding a murderer isn’t easy either . . . If you like historical mysteries, this will be a good one for you.”
Journey of a Bookseller

“Just like in her first novel, Unmentionables, Laurie Loewenstein offers vivid storytelling and a fine eye for evoking small-town life in America’s heartland.”
Reading the Past

“Laurie Loewenstein’s vivid Death of a Rainmaker is at once an engrossing yarn, an elegant inquiry into human desperation, and a portrait of Depression-era America so searingly authentic that the topsoil practically blows off each page.”
—Louis Bayard, author of The Pale Blue Eye

“Reading Death of a Rainmaker is like slipping through time right into a 1930s black-and-white movie. Suddenly you live in Jackson County, Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, and you know what the cinema, hardware store, and courthouse look like. The townspeople are your family, and you care so deeply about what happens to them that you can’t tear your eyes from the pages of this book. It’s odd for a story about a murder to be gentle and generous, but this one is. I fell in love with everyone in town—except of course those who turned out to be trouble. Laurie Loewenstein has a knack for writing the early twentieth century. I sure hope this is a series, because I’m smitten.”
—Robin Oliveira, author of The Winter Sisters

“As if the black blizzards of the Dust Bowl weren’t worrisome enough for an Oklahoma sheriff and his spunky wife, in Death of a Rainmaker Laurie Loewenstein piles on even more troubles: a murder victim’s corpse buried in a sandstorm, an array of possible perpetrators, a small community already fractured by secrets and swirls of distrust, and a contentious election in which the sheriff’s honesty and competence are on the ballot. Like the storms themselves, the plot powers its way across the landscape and seeps into everything it encounters.”
—Dayton Duncan, author of The Dust Bowl

“During one of America’s most devastating periods, the Depression-era Dust Bowl, a huckster is murdered as a dust storm hurtles toward a small Oklahoma town. What follows is an authentic tale of the drought-stricken southern plains, and a lovingly and eloquently told murder mystery. It is not only the unfolding plot and the metaphorical obscuring of truth by dust, but Loewenstein’s masterful prose—with its tender language and skillful resonance—that will captivate readers and keep them enthralled. Death of a Rainmaker is both a gripping tale of murder, and a glimpse into resilience and love in a time of savage loss, scarcity, and fear.”
—Leslie Schwartz, author of The Lost Chapters

“When the wind comes sweeping down the plain in Death of a Rainmaker, Laurie Loewenstein takes your breath away. Her haunting and vivid prose deftly describes the opening chords of a dust storm that left families sick with dust pneumonia or dead broke. In this gripping tale of a sheriff searching for a killer in a dying town, Loewenstein rounds up characters with true grit, cunning, and kindness.”
—Mary Kay Zuravleff, author of Man Alive!

Death of a Rainmaker is a jewel of a novel. The scenes and characters are so vivid and alive that you forget that the Internet and interstate roads haven’t been around forever. Loewenstein is a born storyteller who writes scholarly based page-turners. Overlaying it all is the rainmaker’s story and death. It’s a read you won’t forget.”
—John Bowers, author of Love in Tennessee


When a rainmaker is bludgeoned to death in the pitch-blackness of a colossal dust storm, small-town sheriff Temple Jennings shoulders yet another burden in the hard times of the 1930s Dust Bowl. The killing only magnifies Temple’s ongoing troubles: a formidable opponent in the upcoming election, the repugnant burden of enforcing farm foreclosures, and his wife’s lingering grief over the loss of their eight-year-old son.

As the sheriff and his young deputy investigate the murder, their suspicions focus on a teenager, Carmine, serving with the Civilian Conservation Corps. The deputy, himself a former CCCer, struggles with remaining loyal to the corps while pursuing his own aspirations as a lawman.

When the investigation closes in on Carmine, Temple’s wife, Etha, quickly becomes convinced of his innocence and sets out to prove it. But Etha’s own probe soon reveals a darker web of secrets, which imperil Temple’s chances of reelection and cause the husband and wife to confront their long-standing differences about the nature of grief.

A historical fiction mystery on our Kaylie Jones Books imprint.

Read a guest piece from Laurie Loewenstein at CrimeReads.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Published: 10/2/18
  • IBSN: 9781617756658
  • e-IBSN: 9781617756801
  • Hardcover
  • IBSN: 9781617756795


LAURIE LOEWENSTEIN is the author of the best-selling novel Unmentionables. An Ohio native, she currently lives in Columbia, Maryland. Death of a Rainmaker is her latest novel.

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