The Ploughmen by Kim Zupan

Elderly serial killer John Gload and Deputy Valentine Millimaki develop an unlikely relationship ofploughmen trust as jailed and jailer.

Gload is in prison for many good reasons.  Most of them lie interred in the sprawl of rural Montana, and the authorities want proof from Gload’s own mouth about his spree of atrocities throughout the years.  Millimaki, as the newest recruit in the sheriff’s office, gets night duty and the task of wheedling information from Gload.

As the two men converse, a friendship of sorts develops.  Gload becomes almost mentor-like to the younger Millimaki, who is clearly a troubled man.  His marital woes, depression, and lack of sleep make him receptive to Gloan’s earthy charm.

The two men also share troubled pasts.  In childhood, Millimaki had to deal with an immediate loss of his mother, and a tremendous guilt.  Gload, motherless since childhood, lost his alcoholic father in a snowstorm and then was raised rough in an orphanage, where the other kids learned quickly to steer clear of him.

Interspersed with their nightly talks are stretches of the outer world – of Gload’s reminiscences of another life and an odd nostalgia, and Millimaki’s other job duty, that of tracking down lost souls in Montana’s back country, usually finding them dead.

The landscape itself becomes a many-sided character, its harsh beauty defining the two men and their fates.

Zupan writes beautifully, particularly his descriptions of the natural world.  His writing style reminds me somewhat of Charles Frazier.  Being as Cold Mountain is one of my favorite books, I had little problem with his style, although he occasionally goes a little overboard with his descriptions.  This is a minor issue; The Ploughmen is a worthwhile read.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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