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Dust    by Arthur Slade order for
by Arthur Slade
Order:  USA  Can
Laurel Leaf, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Arthur Slade's Dust is set in the 1930's 'dust-bowl' period in Saskatchewan, Canada, in a prairie town named Horshoe. The story opens on seven-year-old Matthew Steelgate taking his first solo walk into town, with coins in his pockets and visions of candy. A truck driver stops to offer Matthew a ride. Matthew then disappears. Townsfolk and Mounties form an all-out search for the missing child (other children from other countries disappear in similar circumstances). Matthew's eleven-year-old brother Robert and his Uncle Alden both refuse to believe that Matthew is dead.

A stranger, Abram Harsich, who claims to be a meteorologist, arrives in town and convinces residents that he can conjure a rainstorm or two, to bring relief from a three-year drought, if they help construct a 'rainmill' tower. This charlatan reopens the town's movie theatre, and develops convincing showmanship produced with smoke, hypnotism, and a magical 'Mirror of All Things', which casts a spell of visions. The 'showman' also claims to be an entomologist, arriving at the schoolroom to display magnificent butterflies of unusual expanse and beauty.

Robert finds it odd that his parents and others have become oblivious to the abducted children, and appear happy after agreeing to help build Harsich's 'rainmill'. All, that is, except Uncle Alden, whose farm is hit by unnatural calamities. Robert, who is described as 'on the cusp, between dreaming and reality', believes that the abducted children are still alive, and suspects Harsich (who wears dark glasses and black gloves) is involved. Uncle Alden is a positive force in Robert's life, supplying him with books and asking him, 'You read that book yet? ... Your imagination is like a muscle; you have to keep it exercised.'

Robert, instinctively suspicious of Harsich, sets out to investigate his farmstead and rainmill. He finds frozen statues, and a dust-like substance, and believes that Harsich may have other-worldly contacts. Thence, the word dust takes on a deeper, sinister meaning than we usually associate with it. In the culmination of events, the book finishes with a take your breath away ending that involves mystery, mysticism, and the reality of the power of evil and human complicity in it.

Slade describes the drought-ridden community of Horshoe vividly, taking the reader on a journey into an unforgettable tale. He renders the landscape beautifully, as in 'The sun had shifted nearer to the earth ... so near that the air crackled with heat.' His writing is skillful and creative, with spooky moments. I highly recommend his not-to-be put-down book.

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