Wishing Caswell Dead

Written by Pat Stoltey
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

During the early 1800s in a small village on the Illinois frontier, young Mary Jo Proud is raised by her mother and older brother, Caswell, and treated as a slave. At a young age, she is forced to have sex with men from the village, while her brother collects the money to help his mother with the finances. Other characters include Annie Gray, a spinster farmer who helps the poor in the community. Fish, a local Kickapoo Indian who lives in a wigwam outside of town, befriends Mary Jo and Annie Gray. A traveling preacher arrives in the village to hold services and soon becomes Caswell’s enemy. During a sermon, an unusual event occurs that leaves Caswell injured, causing him to fear the preacher.

This novel is a terrific study of human behavior in a small town in the Midwest. I loved the book’s title. Caswell is a despicable character, and everyone in the village wants him to “disappear.” The author provides excellent descriptions of each character as they move toward the conclusion, when the eventual death of Caswell is discovered and the murderer found. I look forward to the author’s next novel and may want to read her previous thrillers.