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    Review of THE RAMPANT REAPER by Marlys Millhiser


    St. Martin's Minotaur, July 2002

    When her mother asked her to go back with her to Iowa, Charlie Green had wanted to refuse. Iowa and the family there meant nothing to Charlie--noting but the people who had made her mother's life miserable. Still, she couldn't abandon her mother to her ruthless relatives. Charlie goes to Iowa.

    Myrtle, Iowa is something of a mystery itself. The town is supported largely by a home for the aged--where, curiously, people go to die but don't. In Myrtle, it seems, people never die, they just get sicker and sicker. Until recently. Suddenly, a rash of death has broken out at the nursing home and the word 'murder' is in the air. Because Charlie has been involved with murder before, she is quickly asked for an opinion and soon finds herself in danger.

    Author Marlys Millhiser (see reviews of novels by this author) delivers a quirky and thoughtful mystery. If a serial killer is loose on the aging population of Myrtle, is this a bad thing? Certainly few of the elderly wish to continue living. A myth of the original Myrtle, who may have been killed by her family because she refuses to stay and take care of her aging relatives, adds depth to the story. Potential romantic interests in the persons of the local sheriff and the bartender add to Charlie's dilemma.

    THE RAMPANT REAPER includes knee-slapping humor, but is occasionally hard to follow and sometimes loses track of the mystery completely. As I was reading, I couldn't help wonder if Millhiser is having current problems with her own aging relatives. Perhaps so, because REAPER seemed unable to make up its mind whether it was intended to be a funny-quirky novel, or a thoughtful examination of the way America treats its aging, and saddles its women with these responsibilities.

    Two Stars

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