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Girl Gone Missing

Grand Rapids Herald-Review

In this, the second Cash Blackbear mystery, Marcie Rendon serves up her Native woman protagonist’s experiences as an older student in a largely white college. In probing the sudden disappearance of a woman student, she introduces us to the seamier side of recruitment into prostitution.

This story, like her first, “Murder on the Red River,” unfolds from within the farm fields of northwestern Minnesota and North Dakota, where Cash earns her income by driving sugar beets to the processing plant.

“The air smelled of river mud and sugar beets mashed under truck tires. One would think it would be a syrupy, sugary smell, but it was more like stale cabbage.”

Her truck driving punctuates her challenges at Moorhead State College, where she’s enrolled as an older student. It’s the early 1970s, and Cash finds college a strange place. The people “talk a lot, but mostly about nothing.” She’s used to “men who knew what kind of fertilizer to put on a corn field...or when to spread manure on the plowed fields. And always, the price of grain on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.” In contrast, the men on campus “talk about books, authors, ideas…but often veer off into anti-war discussions or debates about civil rights.”

Cash does well at Moorhead State. She has “uncanny recall ability. She could pull up a page in her science book in her mind’s eye and re-read it from memory. Likewise, she could pull up a day or an event and run it across a screen in her mind as if it were happening in the present time.” At the school, she hears about a white girl gone missing, someone in her English class. And later, another. Her brother, Mo, whom she hasn’t seen for years, turns up and moves in with her for the month. He’s back from ‘Nam. He educates her about the sex trade there and in cities like Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, her English professor, LeRoy, invites her to Minneapolis to receive a writing award. With mixed feelings, she accepts, thinking she might search for the missing girls there and insisting on driving her own car. Slipping away from her Macalester college room, she drives downtown to surveil for prostitutes, spotting them on the streets. But suddenly, LeRoy shows up, convincing her to drive with him to a professor’s house. The next thing she knows, she wakes up in a locked room full of frightened and very young white women, trafficked.

I won’t recount the terror, the drama, and the bravery of what follows. You can read the book yourself. The ending, I’ll just say, is deeply satisfying.

Rendon has been working for years in the prisons with women who are incarcerated for prostitution, soliciting, and other offenses. Teaching them to tell their stories and access their inner writing voice. She’s able to convey the savagery of the system, what it does to women and their families, how deeply it is connected to poverty, and how it reaches into white rural and suburban areas as well as communities of color. If you’d like to read a summary of what researchers have learned about white slavery, here’s a helpful source:

Meanwhile, I encourage you to order or pick up “Girl Gone Missing,” and if you haven’t read it, the predecessor, “Murder on the Red River.”
- Ann Markusen, April 20, 2019  Visit Website

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