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A Notorious 1926 Mid-Western Murder - an Editorial Review of "Face Down in Rising Sun"

Book Blurb:

Clara Olson was a small-town girl from rural Crawford County, Wisconsin who longed for more than the experiences of growing up on a farm in a large Norwegian family. She aspired to see the world and experience the thrills of the Roaring Twenties.

A fated meeting with a dashing young man promised just that. Erdman Olson led a fast-paced lifestyle in the underground world of speakeasies and bootlegging amidst the Prohibition era.

Erdman introduced a world of excitement that Clara craved, but little did she realize how it would change her life forever. What happened next would shock the world and leave her family searching for answers.

This is a fictional account inspired by a true story.

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Editorial Review:

Clara kept dreaming of finding a life that might take her away from the hills of Crawford County: the tobacco farms, the old country Norwegian customs, the outhouses, the houses without electricity, and the harsh life that took a woman's youth long before her time.

In 1926, news of a murder shook the small town in southwestern Wisconsin called Rising Sun and the ripples echoed clear to the Chicago Tribune which reported on the grisly details. Rising Sun was a family-oriented farming town populated with a vast number of Norwegian immigrants making their way by growing tobacco. This was also the time of prohibition when many young, bright-eyed boys thought to make a buck or two delving into the underworld of illegal liquor sales. Clara's family and Erdman's family were miles apart in the pecking order of livelihoods and family dynamics, with Erdman's family falling close to the dysfunctional side with a mother on the verge of madness and a father in denial about his son's “ways”. Clara's family, consisting of five other sisters, and her mother and father, were very close and supportive, making a living with the sweat of their brows and plowing the yellow earth of the Midwest on the cusp of the Great Depression.

For every young girl, Clara Olsen's story resonates, as she desired the same as most throughout history – a way to escape the gray day-to-day life, the conformity, and destiny of becoming a mere farmer's wife, as she sought “greener pastures”. When she meets Erdman Olsen (no relation) at a box social, her life is set on a course which brings ultimate sorry to not only her family but the entire community of Rising Sun. Without giving too much away about the story, since this was such a notorious crime in the late twenties, much of the background and atmosphere of the narrative exuded similarities to other Depression-era American writers such as “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck, as well as “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. While Capote's novel is set later than the era of this one, the viciousness of the crime which impacts this small community and this family is worth the comparison. Also, it is noteworthy that Ms Allbaugh's book develops in the same languishing style as many readers thrust upon Steinbeck, a slow build in the earlier chapters which build to stronger ending chapters when the storyline reaches the climax. Many readers avoid reading Steinbeck for that very reason, yet they miss out on great American classics, and Ms Allbaugh's book is right among that classification.

These thoughts would vacillate making Clara wonder how the same person could cause so much joy and yet bring so much heartbreak to her at the same time.

For the most part, though, even though the initial chapters meander along like a steady rocking chair hobbling back and forth on a Midwestern front porch, you truly get a sense of the author's attempt to show the stark difference between innocence and naivety, the ever-hopeful sun peeking through the blowing dust, and the harsh realities of narcissism and cruelty in a poverty-stricken setting. Clara remained forever hopeful, always looking through the dusty dark shadows of Erdman's behavior, even dismissing tell-tale red flags along the way. Her story is a reminder that even in our modern-day, this happens again and again when young girls are “swept off their feet” by some cavalier no-good womanizer who promises the moon and delivers tragedy.

A penny for your thoughts might be too slight a price today from the look on your face, my dear.” Lena had finished her writing and come to sit beside Clara on the settee. “You are so young to have the entire world upon your shoulders, Clara. Is there some way in which your old friend might help you?”

For my part, as the reviewer, this story struck a chord in more ways than one... and the ending, which again, will not be revealed by this review, is difficult for anyone who has suffered anything remotely similar to the circumstances portrayed in the story... which makes this book very profound and relevant for any reader today. If when reading you find yourself wanting to close the book, trust me, keep going, and once the momentum picks up about halfway in, the results will be well worth your effort, and you will truly understand why the author develops the first half the way that she did. This book is a slow babbling brookthath widens and rushes into a raging river and over a crashing waterfall.

Buddy drove the roadster slowly back up the lane towards Highway 27 keeping the headlights off. He took a right onto the highway and then another quick right onto the logging road. He was able to turn the headlights on from there and drive the rest of the way to the area Erdman had described. Buddy was a seasoned criminal, but he was not prepared for the sight of the savagery that had taken place.


Face Down in Rising Sun” by K. D. Allbaugh receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company

Author Bio:

KD Allbaugh is a retired educator who lives with her husband and their dog Max in the beautiful rolling hills of Wisconsin. She is a member of the Wisconsin Writers Association and the Womens Fiction Writers Association with a passion for womens fiction/ historical fiction mixed with true crime/mystery. She enjoys her family, her flower/fairy gardens, researching her ancestry, and traveling the backroads of Wisconsin looking for a new story to tell. Her debut novel, Face Down In Rising Sun was a finalist in the WFWA STAR award for debut novel of the year.


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