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On a spring morning in 1925, Sunny Palmer disappears from her baby carriage in Picardy's restaurant in downtown Winnipeg. It happens in seconds when big sister Violet and her mother are choosing their treats from the dessert display. As those first minutes turn to days, months, then years, the Palmer family collapses and gradually glues itself back together in a new form.
A decade later, the Dirty Thirties are in full swing: on a hot summer day in June of 1936, two drifters looking for work turn up in the Palmers' back yard. They are among the legions of men criss-crossing the country looking for work. Violet's father, Will Palmer, a local attorney with few construction skills, invites the men to pitch their tent and stay on to build a garage for his new Buick. But he's on his guard. One of the men, Jackson Shirt, seems a little too well-educated and much too handsome to ring entirely true. He's just Violet's age, seventeen, but Will senses he has more than his share of secrets. A wayfaring friend of the drifters drops by occasionally to watch them work. If anything blameworthy occurs in the neighbourhood -- theft, noise, even illness -- these three outsiders come under close scrutiny. When polio strikes that August, suspicion turns to savagery. And Jackson Shirt's secrets are revealed.
The story takes place in the Norwood Flats section of Winnipeg, the same setting as Preston's previous novels. This time, though, the action is mostly in the Depression year of 1936 and we meet Fraser Foote, the father of Frank, who has played a part in previous books.
- Signature Editions, December 2011
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