The Depression-ravaged Midwest might seem like a strange setting for a romance, but in Dorothy Garlock's sure hands, this now distant era comes to life, with all the gritty realism that Garlock does so well. These are indeed hard times, as Kansas farmers struggle against disasters both natural and man-made. A man-made disaster – the brutal murder of a storekeeper and his wife by rampaging gangsters – brings together an
unlikely couple who, in the midst of tragedy and suffering, find true love.
Molly McKenzie is the lovely twenty-one year old daughter of the owners of a general store in Seward County, Kansas. One summer day in 1935, as she hums a popular song while making the beds, she hears a couple of loud noises. She thinks her father is trying the fireworks that just arrived for the 4th of July celebration. When she peeks out the bedroom window, she sees two citified men in a dark sedan leave the gas pump.
Tragically, the sound she heard was not firecrackers, but rather the shots which killed her father and mother.
Several weeks later, Molly has begun to put her life back together. With the aid of her Aunt Bertha, she is running the general store. But the casual brutality of her parents' murders leaves her with a strong desire for justice. So when federal agent Hod Dolan proposes that she publicize the fact that she can identify the killers and thus serve as
bait to trap them, she quickly agrees.
The ambush brings Hod into Molly's home and into her heart. Hod is a federal lawman (precursor of the FBI) who has spent years chasing the bad guys all over the Midwest. (He was instrumental in capturing the famous Bonnie and Clyde.) He has become increasingly unhappy with his rootless life, especially as he witnesses the happiness of his married brothers and their families. The first time he meets Molly, he is entranced by her fresh beauty and her brave heart. Spending time with her only increases his fascination. But can, or indeed should, a lovely young woman give her heart to a man who has led such a hard life?
For her part, Molly finds Hod equally fascinating. He is handsome, brave and caring. He is also very different from the young men she has known. With little appreciation for her own attractiveness, Molly wonders if a man of the world, who has lived a life full of adventure, can settle for a quiet country mouse.
There is little real internal conflict in With Song. The problems that Molly and Hod face in working through their feelings are simply the normal uncertainties that any couple, thrown together in trying circumstances, might face. The barriers to true love seem completely true to life and Garlock does not draw them out unreasonably.
No, what keeps the story going is a looming threat to Molly, not from the gangsters, but rather from one of the eeriest and scariest villains I have come across in quite a while. Garlock's villain is a masterful creation.
With Song also contains a nice secondary romance and a fine cast of secondary characters. But what really makes the book special is its faithful recreation of life in Kansas in 1935. From the products stocked in the store to the radio programs to the popular songs and dances to the frightening experience of living through a dust storm and
a tornado – everything rings true and everything combines to transport
the reader to another time and place.
With Song is the second book in Garlock's trilogy about life and love in the Depression-era Midwest. If it is not quite as compelling as With Hope, it is nonetheless a richly textured recreation of the past, full of interesting and believable characters with a delightfully sweet romance. I am certainly looking forward to With Heart.