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Big Wheat: A Tale of Bindlestiffs and Blood

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  137 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
The summer of 1919 is over, and on the high prairie, a small army of men, women, and machines moves across the land, bringing in the wheat harvest.  Custom threshers, steam engineers, bindlestiffs, cooks, camp followers, and hobos join the tide.  Prosperous farmers proudly proclaim “Rain follows the plow,” meaning that the bounty of the land will never be exhausted.  Every ...more
Hardcover, 246 pages
Published January 1st 2011 by Poisoned Pen Press (first published May 27th 2010)
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This is a wonderful book. It has the evil banker, the corrupt sheriff, the camaraderie of outcasts, a manic killer, and a nice little love story and the vast plains of North Dakota and Montana. I love historical novels that portray an era with lots of detail. That this book was also a mystery was just an added bonus.

I have always loved going to annual thresher shows here in the Midwest, watching men (rarely women) lovingly fire up huge boilers on old tractors that would be used to power monster
Lou Allin
Oct 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Take a historical mystery, add a serial killer, then set the book on the American prairies in 1919. That’s what Richard Thompson has done in this superb novel. Not only is his research jaw-dropping, the book is a real page-turner.

Epic timing helps, too. Farmers have been jubilant about the skyrocketing price of wheat during World War One. Now things are winding down and it’s harvest time again. On a small North Dakota farm, Charlie Krueger leaves his family after a row with his drunken father. H
Fred Johnson
Jul 05, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Setting was promising, but the characters were hollow and unrealistic, as was the plot.
Gina Wiitanen
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. Set at the turn of the industrial revolution, it had interesting characters and plot twists. The reason I learned about this book was from sitting next to the author's wife on a plane years ago, telling her I enjoy dabble in writing and then she told me about her husband and this book. Neat to pick up something I probably wouldn't have read otherwise. Really enjoyed it!
Dana Stabenow
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Seldom have I read a mystery novel more in the moment than Richard Thompson’s Big Wheat. It’s the summer of 1919, and heartbroken by lover Mabel who has cast him off, twenty-three year old North Dakota farm hand Charlie Kreuger pins his abusive father to the kitchen table with a carving knife and hits the road to seek his fortune. Unfortunately, Mabel has become one of the long string of victims left behind by the Windmill Man, one of the creepier villains of recent crime fiction, and Charlie’s ...more
Carl Brookins
Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

World War I is done and Charlie Krueger’s older brother is never coming home. Charlie, his sister and their mother must cope with an increasingly abusive drunken father and husband. The summer of 1919 wanes and vast acreages of the Middle West prairies are thick with ripening grain. Up the long reaches from the banks of the Platte and the Missouri come the contract threshing machines. Most are followed by raffish rootless men called bindlestiffs, who supplement a farmer’s friends and relatives o
Feb 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent writing that captures your interest right from the start. Fascinating characters to keep the plot rolling along. It is a love story to an era that has been left behind in time and is lost from the memories of most. An era where young men could hit the road and make an honest living in their search of a new life without being considered homeless or drifters. It was a time when greed allowed men to farm a single crop and not think about the consequences that will soon rear its ugly head ...more
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In just 235 pages, the author combines a mystery, historical details about wheat farming, and insights on life in the Great Plains 90 years ago.

The story follows Charlie, a likeable and resourceful young man, who sets out to find work on a threshing crew after a blow-up with his abusive father. The people Charlie encounters tell a variety of stories through well-written dialog, and Charlie discovers he is wanted for murder of a woman he thought he loved. The ending seemed rushed, and the action
Mar 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Big Wheat is an uncomplicated story of good versus evil. The young, innocent protagonist must face the hard realities of growing up quickly and finding his way in an ugly world. Fortunately, on his journey he meets kind, stouthearted people who give him the courage to persevere.

The most intriguing character is the serial killer, whose misguided calling to preserve the land is the basis of the plot. Another interesting element is the setting. Mechanized farm methods of the rural Great Plains duri
Virgil Larson
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1919, my Dad was about the same age as the book’s main character, Charlie Krueger. Having grown up not too far from Eastern North Dakota, and having heard of steam engines, threshing crews, and motorcycles in the past, I found the setting for this story authentic and interesting. This is a coming of age story for Charlie Krueger, if he can manage to escape the murderer who wants to shut him up. At first the crime part of the story seems simplistic, but it develops in interesting ways as more ...more
Dec 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
This was a fascinating look at this period of American history but it is also an interesting serial killer novel. The reading was outstanding. We follow Charlie Krueger, who despite the unfortunate last name (that really should have been changed before publication) was not the serial killer but he was a target and a suspect and the serial killer was at least two steps ahead of everyone. Meanwhile we follow the harvest and learn about the lives of the threshers and the bindlestiffs and the commun ...more
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a few chapters to warm up to Mr. Thompson's writing style, or maybe it took him a few chapters to warm up. :) Either way, I did end up enjoying this story very much. Because I lived in North Dakota for a time, I really enjoyed the setting for this book, North Dakota in 1919. The geography, weather, and people Mr. Thompson describes were very believable. And it's not really a mystery - we know who is doing what from the beginning - but is full of suspense and action. An interesting rea ...more
Judith Starkston
Apr 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Great Plains during the post World War I boom years of “big wheat” provide an unusual setting for a mystery. The charm of this book is as much in its intricate descriptions of the steam driven machinery that made the big harvests possible as in the story, although the story became increasingly compelling as I read. For the complete review

Mar 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Minnesota Book Award finalist.

Not realizing he is observing a mass murderer bury his first "love", Charlie Krueger escapes his abusive father and sets forth on an adventure that will change his life. Along the way he enters an old forest grove, sacred to the Lakota, works hard as a bindlestiff on a threshing crew, and joins a traveling group of ragtag workers who become family. When his life and those he loves are threatened, he out thinks evil.
On the night when a young man (Charlie Krueger) decides to leave his abusive and strict father’s family farm and strike out on his own, a young woman he was once involved with is murdered, and now Charlie is under suspicion.
Set in 1919 on the farms of the Great Plains, this often violent tale is oddly alluring and filled with interesting and off-beat characters. An original voice in mystery writing.
Jan 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed the descriptions of the harvest, threshing machines, and the people that traveled the country following the harvest. The social issues of the time--women voting and "the big war" were accurate and gave an isight to the midset of the time. Really enjoyed the main characters and how their love story blossomed. Not so big on the murder mystery part. While there were depraved people back then, the whole mystery part was rather flat. Overall, a good read.
May 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: midwest
An odd mashup of Water for Elephants and a serial killer novel, which succeeds in some aspects but fails in others. Thompson's research is clearly impeccable and Charlie's a strong protagonist, but the plot feels a bit been-there-done-that.
a fairly interesting period piece (1919 usa, very rural setting in north dakota, and has nice little bit about sioux) with lots of mechanics and manual labor. More of a crime/thriller than a mystery, but the accurate and balanced history of farming, labor, machinery, rural life, and capitalism is very refreshing.
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just really liked this book. It's been a long time since I've read about farming in the early 2oth Century and I forgot how much I like it. I know, I know, you probably think that it is really dry and boring but the author kept me engaged and he threw in a murder and serial killer and it was downright a delightful read.
The mystery is "solved" through violence and coincidence in this story but that didn't ruin the book for me. I liked the main and supporting characters. The author obviously has a love for machinery - it came through strong and clear without being boring. The place and time were also very well written.
Mar 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book won a book award for "Sense of Place" which it deserves. Rural US in 1920 is a favorite time period for me, and it was worth the read to inhabit it for a few days. However it's just an OK mystery by a MN writer. We' ll see what my book club thinks of it.
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was not your typical murder mystery, but I enjoyed it all the same. No one knew the murders were happening, and the protagonist was likeable. I am looking forward to the book discussion next Saturday.
If I had wanted to know how a threahing machine worked, I might have liked this better. It took place, the plains at the turn of the 20th century, but it had too much detail that might interest a (male)farmer. The character's weren't developed enough for my taste.
Dennis Gerwing
The author's description of wheat harvesting and rural life in the Great Plains in the early 1900's was interesting and well done. Too bad he had to include a mad serial killer and some improbable chases, showdowns etc. and lots of coincidental encounters.
Nov 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Big Wheat is quite a lot of book in just 250 pages! The story takes off right from page one and it provides enough twists and turns for any mystery lover.

Full review Here
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is short (around 230p). I have read similar stories where the author stretches what he has out to 600p for no reason. The concise story gives a flavor of the times and a sense of the characters without weighing the reader down with useless details and side-stories.
Apr 30, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nearly gave this a pass because of the focus on manual wheat harvesting, but the reviews were excellent. I'm glad I read it -- enjoyed the mystery, and learned a lot about a subject I didn't realize was so interesting.
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Thompson has created a fascinating and original villain. But after establishing that he is evil in the mind of the reader, he allows him to dangle in the wind while he explains the inner workings of a grain thresher in lengthy asides.
Jun 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book kept my interest all they way through.
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book. Fast moving and an enjoyable main character. Interesting setting. The big drawback is your need to suspend disbelief, which is par for the course in this genre.
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Richard Alvin Thompson is a civil engineer who traded his transit for a laptop and now writes mysteries full time. His first book, Fiddle Game was short-listed for a Debut Dagger Award. The second in the series about bail bondsman and former bookie Herman Jackson, Frag Box, was a finalist in the Minnesota Book Awards. Big Wheat is his first stand-alone historical mystery.

Librarian’s note: There i
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