Elsie's Business

Franci Washburn

Elsie Roberts has been dead a year when the narrator arrives in the town where she was bludgeoned to death in January 1969. The daughter of a black father and a Native American mother, Elsie moved there after being attacked by white teenagers near the Standing Rock Reservation. The narrator searches for the truth about Elsie, a story an old Native "grandfather" tells him has been "polished . . . with lies, half truths, and omissions." In chapters alternating between Elsie's past and the narrator's present, pieces of her tragic life are gradually illuminated through the eyes of those who knew her. The priest in the town where Elsie is sent after the assault. His parishioner, who has a penchant for Native women and becomes Elsie's confidant and her husband. And the town drunk, Elsie's friend until shortly before she is killed. Each one either harbors a motive for killing Elsie, or suffers guilt over her brutal death. Washburn weaves together a murder tale, a story of small-town prejudice, and a bit of Native American mysticism in a haunting debut. Deborah Donovan, Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved.