Along Comes a Stranger


The summer of 1995 marks Kate Colter's fifteenth year in the small town of Hayden, Wyoming. A New Englander at heart, Kate loves her husband and daughter and is fond of her neighbors. Yet, privately, she feels disconnected from the people around her. Then along comes Tom Baxter. Her mother-in-law's new suitor from "back East," Tom immediately draws Kate in with his gentle charm and engaging conversation, like a little piece of the home she so misses. But inconsistencies in his stories are piquing Kate's ...

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Along Comes a Stranger

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The summer of 1995 marks Kate Colter's fifteenth year in the small town of Hayden, Wyoming. A New Englander at heart, Kate loves her husband and daughter and is fond of her neighbors. Yet, privately, she feels disconnected from the people around her. Then along comes Tom Baxter. Her mother-in-law's new suitor from "back East," Tom immediately draws Kate in with his gentle charm and engaging conversation, like a little piece of the home she so misses. But inconsistencies in his stories are piquing Kate's curiosity—and a series of peculiar and suspicious events is leading her to a terrifying conclusion that could forever shatter her life and the lives of those she loves.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Understated. Haunting. Sublime. Dorie McCullough Lawson's brilliantly subdued debut novel, which is set in rural Wyoming, revolves around the relationship between the overly curious wife of a paleontologist and his mother's mysterious boyfriend -- a man who could very well be one of the most notorious criminals in the country.

When Kate Colter and her husband, George, meet his elderly mother's new beau -- a strikingly handsome man in his 60s named Tom Baxter -- everyone is thrilled that Lorraine, a widow for years, has finally found a suitable companion. But the more Kate -- who grew up in Bristol, Massachusetts -- finds out about the friendly and intelligent man, the more she begins to link him to Whitey Bulger, a legendary Boston gangster who has been on the run from the law for years. Could this charismatic and generous man really be on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list for extortion, racketeering, narcotics, conspiracy, and 18 counts of murder?

Mystery fans who enjoy their novels laden with over-the-top action and overtly graphic crime scenes may find Lawson's first novel decidedly dull; but readers who lean toward more introspective, cerebral novels like The Wildfire Season by Andrew Pyper and Nancy Pickard's The Virgin of Small Plains will find Along Comes a Stranger an absolute gem of a novel. Highly recommended. Paul Goat Allen
Publishers Weekly
A bored housewife befriends a man who could be a fugitive murderer in this perplexing and clunky debut novel. (Lawson edited the anthology Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children.) A Bowdoin-educated Bristol, Mass., native, Kate Colter never really gelled with the locals after moving with her paleontologist husband, George, and daughter, Clara, to Hayden, Wyo., George's hometown. So she spends a lot of time on the phone talking to her aunt back in Boston and observing the rituals of the American West (rodeos, parades, "Omaha Steak parties"). When she meets her mother-in-law's new boyfriend, the charming, rugged and well-read Tom Baxter, they become fast friends. But a series of coincidences leads her to suspect that Tom is actually on-the-lam Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Lawson, the daughter of historian David McCullough, intimately understands her protagonist's displaced easterner ennui, but Kate's listlessness becomes a dulling centerpiece (a cordless phone's dying battery is prominent), and nothing happens for swaths of pages at a time. Suspense builds slowly toward an abrupt climax. Indeed, action does come to Hayden, but it takes its time getting there. (May) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060884772
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/3/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Dorie McCullough Lawson is the author of Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children. The daughter of renowned historian David McCullough, she lives in Rockport, Maine, with her husband, the artist T. Allen Lawson, and their four children. This is her first novel.

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First Chapter

Along Comes a Stranger

Chapter One

Bear Creek Road
Hayden, Wyoming

"You never really know about people," I remember my father saying when I was a little girl. And he was right. You don't. You never really know.

What happened to me and to my family a year ago, during a few weeks of the summer of 1995, was something I never expected. Who could have expected? It seems as unlikely now as it did then. I'm trying to write it all down, then maybe I'll be able to see what's important, what matters to me, and what doesn't. Maybe then I'll be able to explain it to Clara someday in a way that makes sense.

I once knew a boy named Jake who watched his best friend die. The two teenage boys were swinging from a rope into a lake. The friend let go before he was over the water, landed on a rock, and bled to death. All the bleeding was internal, so neither boy knew how serious the injury was. The point is that Jake was there when his best friend died. He was part of the death, and that's one of life's big experiences, one that most of us never have. With my aunt Joanie afterward, I said, "This will change Jake forever."

Without missing a beat, Joanie, who sees to the heart of things quickly, said, "And if it doesn't, he's an idiot!" Well, I'm not going to be an idiot.

I'm forty-one years old and I grew up in the East. My name is Kate Colter, Kathleen Louise Vaile Colter. George Colter is my husband, and our daughter, Clara, is about to turn seven. We've wished for more children, but it just hasn't happened. George is a paleontologist. He teaches at the community college and does fieldwork all overWyoming. His specialty is the Eocene epoch, and he spends a lot of time in the southwestern corner of Wyoming at Fossil Butte. When people ask what I do, I say, "I'm at home with Clara," but I do have a part-time job; I just keep it quiet because I can tell my boss, Mr. Stanley, prefers it that way. Mr. Stanley is a well-to-do, elderly gentleman who keeps to himself, and I pay his bills and do the payroll for his Rafter T Ranch. As a sideline, I'm available if you have a horse (or a dog, or a sheep—no cows) that needs something extra—a wound needing regular bandaging, medication, and a clean stall, anything really. For this people usually pay me with money, but not always. Barter is alive and well here, and I've traded for almost everything from dental work, to fly-fishing equipment, to a year's worth of oil changes. I wish someone would trade for plane tickets or books, but that hasn't happened, either.

We live in Hayden, Wyoming, George's hometown, in a state so full of fossils it's a suitable home base for paleontological fieldwork. George and I met in New York City fifteen years ago while he was working at the Museum of Natural History and I was visiting a friend in Connecticut during my awkward, confused time right after college. We sat next to each other on the train and started talking. The day had turned from beautiful to cold and raw and I had no coat, and George, the Westerner and gentleman that he is, had a jacket to loan me. The next day I returned it to him at the museum, and the rest, as they say, is history. When he asked me to marry him, I knew I was saying yes to him, and yes to Wyoming. Like so many women, I'm here because of a man. There are girls who came with their families to dude ranches from places like St. Louis and Pittsburgh, fell in love with cowboys, and stayed; women who met their husbands back east at college and then came west with them; and gals who were here visiting for one reason or another, met the right guy, and just couldn't leave. With hardly any effort I can list women from eighty-nine years old on down who stay here for a man, but I can't think of a single man who's here for a woman.

My mother-in-law, Lorraine, lives in Hayden, too, and I'm lucky because I like her. She doesn't really know me, she just thinks I'm George's "nice wife from back east," and that's about it. It used to drive me crazy, but now I'm used to it. George is still bothered, but what can I do? George's father died years ago of kidney failure, and ever since, Lorraine has been the receptionist at Mountain Vision Ophthalmology. Lorraine knows what's going on in town and she doesn't care much about anything outside of town, unless, of course, it's on TV or in her Country Woman magazine. She's small and pretty, with fine features. Her skin is so even that it must have hardly seen the sun, and at sixty-four, her legs look better than mine. Anyway, it's important to mention her now because all that happened last summer began with her.

Before I get into the events of a year ago, I should explain my frame of mind at the time. Summer had come on strong, as it always does. So, so hot, and dry. It was the middle of July, midmorning, and I remember stepping out of the overly air-conditioned Albertsons grocery store. Pushing my cart to the truck, I could hardly see in front of me because it was so bright. The heat was too much already, hitting me from the sun above and the pavement below. At the far end of the parking lot there were more RVs than usual, probably because Rodeo was about to begin. Clara followed closely behind talking mostly to herself. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with a thought, a feeling really—Is this it? Is this all it's going to be? . . .

Along Comes a Stranger. Copyright © by Dorie Lawson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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