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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…

Finalist for the 2019 Oklahoma Book Awards, Fiction!

“This striking historical mystery . . . is brooding and gritty and graced with authenticity.”
NPR, One of the Best Books of 2018 selected by Maureen Corrigan

“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

“This richly detailed historical mystery brings the Dust Bowl to life, with the hardscrabble farms and semi-rural 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, One of the Best Books of 2018 (Crime Fiction)

“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

“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

Selected as a Great Group Reads pick for 2019!

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

Included in the New York Public Library’s 12 Days of Bookness 2018/12 New Works of Fiction

“The plot is compelling, the character development effective and the setting carefully and accurately designed . . . I have lived in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma; I know about wind and dust . . . Combining a well created plot with an accurate, albeit imagined, setting and characters that ‘speak’ clearly off of the page make Death of a Rainmaker a pleasant adventure in reading.”
The Oklahoman

“Set in an Oklahoma small town during the Great Depression, this launch of a promising new series is as vivid as the stark photographs of Dorothea Lange.”
South Florida, One of Oline Cogdill’s Best Mystery Novels of 2018

“After a visiting con artist is murdered during a dust storm, a small-town sheriff and his wife pursue justice in 1930s Oklahoma. A vivid evocation of life during the Dust Bowl; you might need a glass of water at hand while reading Loewenstein’s novel.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Included in Holiday Gift Books Roundup, Editor’s Pick

“Laurie Loewenstein’s new mystery novel . . . expertly evokes the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression . . . Loewenstein’s novel sometimes reads like a combination of a Western and a mystery. But that genre mishmash works.”
Washington City Paper

“The plot is solid in Death of a Rainmaker, but what makes Loewenstein’s novel so outstanding is the cast of characters she has assembled . . . Death of a Rainmaker is a superb book, one that sets the reader right down amid some of the hardest times our country has faced, and lets us feel those hopeful farmers’ despair as they witness their dreams turning to dust.”
Mystery Scene Magazine

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

“If you liked The Dry by Jane Harper or love historical mysteries with strong settings, try Death of a Rainmaker: A Dust Bowl Mystery by Laurie Loewenstein.”
Vernon Area Public Library

“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

“I’ve always been fascinated with the lives of the little people during the Great Depression and Dustbowl. I understand, I think, how economically our country was driven to this time but I want to peek into the windows of the people who live in their everyday houses in their anywhere towns trying to hold on for one more day that I’m interested in. Laurie Loewenstein has parted the curtains for us in Death of a Rainmaker.”
Denice’s Day

“The compassion Etha and Jennings feel for their neighbors and for the young vagrants pushed out by families unable to feed them permeates this excellent series opener.”
Stop, You’re Killing Me!

“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 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.

Listen to an interview with Laurie Loewenstein on the Wine, Women & Writing podcast.

Watch an interview with Laurie Loewenstein on Pressenza’s Face 2 Face:

Book Details

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


LAURIE LOEWENSTEIN is the author of the novels Unmentionables and Death of a Rainmaker, the first in the Dust Bowl Mystery series and a finalist for a 2019 Oklahoma Book Award. She teaches at Wilkes University’s Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing and is a fifth-generation Midwesterner. Funeral Train: A Dust Bowl Mystery is her latest work.

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