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January 17 , 2009

The Origin of Fear


In 1940, the United States is hovering on the edge of entering the war in Europe. People listen to the radio and are afraid. One wintery night, in a two-family household, deep in Wisconsin farm country, four-year-old Silje Reiersen hears a knock on the door. A stranger wants shelter for the night, so the men doing chores in the barn allow the man to sleep in the hay loft overnight. The next morning, the man is found with a pitchfork stuck in his neck. Who is he? Why was he killed? By whom? The sheriff, with none of modern day's forensic tools must solve this crime. Cousins Silje and Nils Reiersen are accustomed to wandering freely over the farm and playing in the sheds and barns, but when the brutal murder of a stranger happens one snowy winter's night in the hay loft of the cattle barn, everything changes. Fear enters their lives.Their entire family comes under suspicion. People, once friendly, barely greet them when they go into town to buy groceries. Silje starts first grade the following fall and discovers that nobody wants to play with her. Further, she realizes that Nils, now in fourth grade, must have endured this rejection ever since the murder in their barn happened the previous winter. No wonder he was always so sullen when he came home from school. Compounding the unease are the anxieties that brothers Alex and Harold Reiersen feel as they listen to radio broadcasts filled with news of the impending entry of the United States into the war in Europe. Alex and Harold, two brothers who had pooled resources to begin farming together, worry about the loss of young men who usually help out during harvest. Everyone in the Norwegian-American community is afraid, not only of the coming war, but of the unknown killer that lives among them. Two young children, left on their own to make sense of the the killing, must find imaginary ways to cope. As Sheriff Tom Iverson struggles to identify the victim and catch the killer, he comes to believe that the murderer must be someone known to the family. When a second death occurs, he suspects that this is murder too even though no motive is yet clear. Parallel to the story of the Reiersens is the shocking revelation of what motivates a man so desperate that he believes that killing is the only solution to keeping himself safe. Author Halleson is adept at delving into the mind of a man who never wanted to kill, but for whom it became easier with each successive murder. The exciting climax to this story brings Nils and Silje right into the action when the killer's identity is discovered. The frightening ending will leave you breathless!
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