Bleeding Kansas [NOOK Book]


The New York Times bestseller from the author of Fire Sale.

In Kansas, three families have coexisted not-so-peacefully for more than one hundred and fifty years: the Grelliers, the Fremantles, and the Schapens. Into their lives comes Gina Haring, a relative of the Fremantles who is house-sitting the derelict family mansion while she puts her own life in order. Her lifestyle and beliefs will put her at odds ...
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Bleeding Kansas

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The New York Times bestseller from the author of Fire Sale.

In Kansas, three families have coexisted not-so-peacefully for more than one hundred and fifty years: the Grelliers, the Fremantles, and the Schapens. Into their lives comes Gina Haring, a relative of the Fremantles who is house-sitting the derelict family mansion while she puts her own life in order. Her lifestyle and beliefs will put her at odds with her neighbors, and test the mettle of a community being swept up in events beyond its control.
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Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
Set in the rural Kaw River Valley, where the author grew up, and sparked by a feud between two families that pioneered this farm region during the 1850s, the multigenerational narrative bristles with the kind of prickly social issues that give substance to Paretsky's detective stories.
—The New York Times
Jim Lehrer
There was the 1850s' Bloody Kansas of history, and now there is Sara Paretsky's Bleeding Kansas of fiction. Each is a mix of the real and the imagined, and both are unforgettable. Paretsky, one of America's bestselling crime novelists, has taken a risk with this book. She has written a serious, multi-layered saga that requires her loyal readers to move away from the familiar world of V.I. Warshawski, the Chicago private detective whom Paretsky brought to life in 12 previous novels. In its place, she has created a wild, wicked world in present-day northeastern Kansas that is as complicated as it is mean.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Paretsky takes a break from the mystery genre with this powerful, emotionally genuine tale about the ties of love, family and religious belief in a rural Kansas community. The history of the Schapens, Grelliers and Freemantles in the Kaw River Valley dates back to the mid-19th century, but time, old grudges and religious differences have eroded the bonds of friendship. When John Freemantle's niece moves back to Douglas County, her Wiccan rituals and antiwar activism cause controversy and indirectly inspire teenager Chip Grellier to enlist in the army. After Chip's death in Iraq, the Grellier family begins falling apart. Meanwhile, the fortunes of the Schapens, devout fundamentalist Christians, rise with the emergence of an apparently perfect red heifer, the sacrifice crucial to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Second Coming of Jesus. This audio's power is in its richly evoked characters, and Susan Ericksen's expressive, sympathetic voice partners perfectly with Paretsky's text. She distinctively voices men, women and teenagers with careful shifts in pitch, inflection and accent. In the end, listeners will be both satisfied by the realistic, uplifting ending and bereft at having to say good-bye to Paretsky's painfully real Kansans. Simultaneous release with the Putnam hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 15). (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Paretsky, best known for her acclaimed V.I. Warshawski mystery series (Blacklist), turns to her roots in rural Kansas for this stand-alone novel of bigotry, lawlessness, and rampant biblical fundamentalism. It is the 1970s, and the Schapen and Grellier families have been farming adjacent land since the Civil War. Familiarity has bred contempt, and though both families profess Christianity, they practice it very differently, which sets them at odds. When one of the Schapens' cows gives birth to what may be a "perfect red heifer" and a local Orthodox Jewish sect shows great interest in it for potential sacrifice, a media frenzy ensues, stirring religious and monetary fervor. Then, a young Wiccan moves into a local empty farmhouse and starts conducting pagan rights, and the tiny community begins an active harassment campaign. All this is background for the star-crossed love between teenagers Lara Grellier and Robbie Schapen. Paretsky has written a powerful tale with overtones of the Wild West that illustrates the ease with which communities become zealous, ignited by fear and ignorance. Different in style from her crime fiction, this will nonetheless prove popular among her readers. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ9/1/07.]
—Susan Clifford Braun

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101211922
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2008
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 624
  • Sales rank: 287,846
  • File size: 967 KB

Meet the Author

Sara  Paretsky

Sara Paretsky is the author of sixteen books, including her renowned V. I. Warshawski novels. Her many awards include the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers' Association. She lives in Chicago.


Sara Paretsky grew up in eastern Kansas, where she attended a small country school. The publishing bug bit Paretsky early—at age 11, her first published story appeared in the magazine The American Girl. It was about children surviving a Kansas tornado. She attended the University of Kansas for her undergraduate degree, but after spending a summer in Chicago doing community service work, she fell in love with the Windy City and decided after college to make the move permanent.

Paretsky eventually earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago but had a hard time finding a job as an academic, so she returned to school for an M.B.A., after which she started working full-time in marketing. (In order to complete her first three novels, she juggled family and job with writing at night.) An avid reader, Paretsky has always been a fan of detective fiction, but noticed a lack of intelligent, likable female protagonists in the genre. Thus, with the inspiring city of Chicago as the background, her signature character, V. I. Warshawski, was born.

Readers and critics have responded with appreciation for Paretsky's confident, modern, noir female detective. Unlike other noir heroines, V. I. refuses to be categorized by her sexuality. Despite the patriarchy she confronts on every case, she's a single woman in total control. Paretsky says of V. I., " I started aging V. I. because although she is a fictional character, she is grounded in historical events: she came of age during the Civil Rights movement and the anti-War movement. Her mother was a refugee from Fascist Italy. And her cases are all based on real events. Who she is depends on her being born in the Fifties. Now, of course, I have this dilemma of how to let her get older while still continuing to be an effective detective. I haven't quite figured that out yet."

Beyond her successful series, Paretsy has proven her range of talent with short stories (1995's Windy City Blues) and a handful of stand-alones (Ghost Country, Bleeding Kansas). She has also edited anthologies of mysteries and crime fiction by famous and less well-known female writers.

Generous with all she has learned throughout the years, Paretsky is a co-founder of Sisters in Crime, an organization dedicated since 1986 to bringing the female voice in detective fiction to the attention of booksellers and libraries. Sisters in Crime is a business resource for women on how to prepare a press kit, arrange a signing at a local bookstore, or search for an agent—as well as a treasure chest of new writers on the scene. Check out all they have to offer at

Good To Know

Paretsky worked for ten years as a marketing manager at an insurance company and draws on the experience when writing about white-collar crimes for the V. I. Warshawski series.

Comparing herself to V. I. Warshawski, Paretsky says that they both love dogs, enjoy good food and good Scotch, and are both diehard Cubs fans.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Sara N. Paretsky
    2. Hometown:
      Chicago, Illinois
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 8, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Ames, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Political Science, University of Kansas; Ph.D. and M.B.A., University of Chicago
    2. Website:

Reading Group Guide

Set in the Kaw River Valley where Paretsky grew up, Bleeding Kansas is the story of the Schapens and the Grelliers, two farm families whose histories have been entwined since the 1850s, when their ancestors settled the valley as antislavery emigrants.

Today, the Schapen family, terrified by the lawlessness of the 1970s—when Lawrence was the most violent college town in the nation—has turned to that old-time religion for security. The Schapens keep a close eye on all their neighbors, most especially the Grelliers. They maintain careful track of everyone’s misdeeds, printing the most egregious on their family website. When Gina Haring, a Wiccan, moves into an empty farmhouse and starts practicing pagan rites, the Schapens are so outraged that they begin an active harassment campaign against the Wiccans.

The family members worry, too, about who stands better with the Lord, they or the Grelliers. When a Schapen cow gives birth to what may be a “Perfect Red Heifer” —needed if the temple is ever rebuilt in Jerusalem—the Schapens feel convinced that God is indeed smiling on them.

The pastor at their church, the Salvation Bible Church, proclaims:

“We have been given a miracle, a chance to make history in Kansas. The nation and the world laugh at us. ‘What is the matter with Kansas?’, liberals ask. We have a chance to say, ‘Nothing’s the matter with Kansas; everything’s right with Kansas.’ What’s the matter is that this nation has turned its back on the truth of the risen Lord.”

Despite parental cautions, the Grelliers’ teenage children are enraged by the Schapens. All their short lives, they and the young Schapens have fought, first in their country school and now in high school. One particularly angry confrontation causes Chip Grellier to be expelled from school and consequently to join the army. Chip’s death in Iraq is the catalyzing event for momentous, even monstrous, changes in the lives of not only both the Schapens and the Grelliers but of all the families in the Valley. The powerful, climactic scene at Gina Haring’s Samhain bonfire will forever haunt the reader.


  • Discuss Susan’s fascination with the history of the Grelliers and Abigail’s diaries. Why do you think she attaches herself so strongly to her husband’s family history?
  • What is your first impression of Gina Haring? Does your perception of her change as you learn more about her?
  • At various points in the story, Myra Schapen uses the family website to report the misdeeds and misfortunes of her neighbors, most importantly the Grelliers. Do you view the website as a source of power for the Schapens? How is media, in general, portrayed in the story?
  • Jim tries to think of his son’s death as the result of a number of different forces, whereas Susan blames herself. What do you think most influenced Chip’s decision to join the army and, subsequently, be killed?
  • Susan makes a point to call her children by their proper names, rather than their nicknames like everyone else. Why do you think this is?
  • Jim emphasizes the sentiment that “you can’t farm in the valley if you’re on bad terms with your neighbors.” Indeed, community values are embraced by most of the families in the valley—with the exception of the Schapens. At the same time, however, Kaw River Valley seems to be the breeding ground for outcasts, including Gina Haring, Robbie, and even Lara herself. How do you feel about this juxtaposition?
  • Do you see a difference between the Schapens’ spying habits and Lara Grellier’s own compulsion to sneak into other people’s houses?
  • The perfect red heifer represents different things for different groups. The Jews view her as the key component to rebuild their Temple and the Schapens, specifically Myra, Junior, and Arnie, see her as profit. Can you think of what the heifer might mean to Robbie?
  • Throughout the story, various characters use the words “dyke” and “retarded.” How do you feel about these words and their uses in the story?
  • Although in different ways, Susan and Elaine both lost a child. Are there any other parallels between the two women?
  • In chapter 51, Pastor Nabo attempts an exorcism on Robbie, Lara, and Elaine. How did this scene make you feel?
  • Elaine never falters in her accusation of Myra Schapen as the person responsible for the fire in the bunkhouse. However, late in the story Jim remembers his own grandfather’s grievances with the hippies. Who do you think set the fire, if anyone, and for what reason?
  • Discuss your feelings at the end of the story. Do you think it could have ended differently?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 17, 2010


    I come from an area approximately an hour north of where this book takes place. I felt so at home reading this, that I often look for other books similar.

    I think it was absolutely amazing how Ms. Paretsky was able to cover such a broad spectrum of topics in a 300 page book without losing the reader.

    Instead of focusing on one character or another, I really felt like I got to know the majority of the characters in the book. Watching Jim develop as well as others and relationships was very intriguing. It definitely made the book hard to put down.

    If you enjoy country life and have any farm experience whatsoever (or not!) you will definitely love this book.

    It also gives such a profound look into the differences from one protestant church to another. However, as a Catholic, I have to say the book is not very nice to us! ;)

    I hope you all enjoy this as much as I have. I'd like to read more from this author. However, I hear her other novels are nothing like this book was.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2013


    She sat sadly.

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  • Posted September 28, 2011

    Seeing Red

    At its best, *Bleeding Kansas* tells a nuanced story about what it means to depart from the norm in a small rural community where neighbors know no privacy and making a living is difficult. It also provides a heartbreaking account of one family's response to death. At its worst, the story becomes sort of a cross between "Romeo and Juliet" and "CinderFella." Sara Paretsky's best writing here is in the same class as America's greats. However, I don't think her villains measure up to the rest of the narrative -- not because they're morally inferior but because their lack of depth and complexity renders them too bad to be quite believable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2010

    Paretsky's Bleeding Kansas

    This is the first book I have read by Ms Paretsky. I enjoyed her style and her historical perspective. I learned something about history and enjoyed the fictional plot. I found the character development to be very good and the plot and perspective of the book to be very original. Who would have thought to address conservative religious views, Wickens, homophobia, the Iraq war, teenage love, infidelity, mental health and many other things in the same novel. I found it quite compelling. I would recommend the book for book clubs as there is ample material for an interesting discussion. But anyone would enjoy the characters and plot. A good read.

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  • Posted March 4, 2010

    Great Book

    I almost didn't read this book after reading some of the negative reviews but, I'm so glad that I did. It was a great book and I couldn't put it down. The characters and plot were really well developed. At first it was a little confusing as I got acquainted with the characters. It was kind of like walking into a party and being introduced to a room full of people all at one time. But just like life, you get to know them as you read and stay with them.
    I think this was one of Sara Paretsky's greats!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2009

    Paretsky Finds A New Dimension

    The book was fascinating....I grew up in the rural Midwest and there was a great deal of intolerance in those days. There still is in some areas.
    This book is about a woman who practices witchcraft, who stirs things up in a small town. It's about a woman who has a breakdown when her son dies, a local bully who gets away with everything, an unlikely teenage romance and a girl that goes to extremes in snooping. But mostly this book sheds a great deal of light on the hypocrisy, intimidation, crazy ideas, and bad behavior of many people in fundamental religious sects. The social issues make this a very interesting book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2008

    I lived in Lawrence,KS during this period . . . .

    There are two reasons I read this book - one: it was written by Sara Paretsky, two: I was born and raised in Kansas and lived in Larence during the 'Bleeding Kansas' era. I remember the unrest on campus that year - I was a senior at Lawrence High School - where at least one person died during the incident and they ended the term early at the University of Kansas just to get people out of town. Sara Paretsky is an extraordinary writer and I throughly enjoyed this story, but I sure hope she has a few more VI Warshawski books up her sleeve.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2008

    It is a page turner

    I felt that this was a book that brougt history alive for the time period that was being depicted. I would like to see a follow up book that would give more insight on the pre and post relationship between grandma Shapen and the other characters in the book. Grandma Shapen and Jr got off too easy and there needs to be some more future character develpment that would give the readers more closure at to what happen to the families maybe ten years down the line. I hope Grandma Shapen's cream spoils and Jr gets to know what happens to boys like him.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2008

    You just dont care

    The characters were unlikeable, the hero and heroine were disappointing in that the reader (me) just didnt care what happenened to them or anyone in the book. They were not likeable in any respect and the book just went on and on about their nonsensicle lives. They were all cowards or insane. No redeeming quality in either them or the plot. Too bad to have spent money on this. She should have stayed with Warshawsky, they were very good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2008

    Surprise - NOT VI

    It's a free country - an author can write about whatever she chooses. But Paretsky's fan base has been waiting patiently for another in the VI series. Instead, we get a story about farmers in Kansas. Good luck with the new direction, Ms. Paretsky, but as for me - no thanks.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2008

    very disappointing

    Because I am a huge Paretsky fan I will rate the book disappointing rather than poor, but it is a tough call. The dialogue between the family members was stiff, unnatural and inauthentic. I skipped about a third of the book just to see how it all ended. Dare I say it was boring? Sorry, Sara , you were out of your element on this one. I grew up in a conservative rural area and this story just doesn't ring true.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2008


    I was hoping for another V I story, but Bleeding Kansas was so gripping, it really took my breath away. And some of the writing was like poetry, which I guess Sara Paretsky couldn't do in her V I stories. It really made me think about religion in America today, too.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2008

    Excellent history, unbelievable characters

    What a disappointment. The historical aspect attracted me, but her characters were unbelievable. Stilted dialog and long-drawn out scenes made this a dull read. I stuck it out past the first hundred pages (hoping it would improve), but barely made it to the end.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Superb Storytlling

    Nears the town of Lawrence in the Kaw River Valley in Kansas, two families the Grelliers and the Schapens have farmed the land for over one hundred and fifty years. Both families barely tolerate each other because the Schapens who belong to a fundamentalist church believes the Grelliers are godless heathens. Into this atmosphere comes Gina Haring, a Wiccan and a lesbian, who is the catalyst for a series of events that ends in tragedy and death.------------- Susan Grellier is attracted to the Wiccan holidays and attends the bonfire which gets the Schapens up in arms. Junior Schapen makes life miserable for Chip Grellier. Life gets worse for Chip when his mother becomes an anti-war activist and the town looks upon her as a hippie. Tired of the constant fighting, Chip enlists in the army and sent to Iraq where he dies less than a month after he arrives. Susan has a breakdown and doesn¿t relate to anyone causing the family to fall apart. The Schapens have a baby red heifer that the ultra conservative Jews want to buy in three years if she is perfect as both Jews and Christians believe such an animal is needed for the temple to be built and for Christ to come again. Tired of the loathing the Schapens stir up, some people set in motion a deadly series of events that culminates on Halloween.---------- BLEEDING KANSAS is nothing like the author¿s V.I. Warshawski crime capers. This is more like a novel written by Barbara Delinsky about families and the internal and external strife each individual deals with. There is a lot of depth to this novel and though it can be read for entertainment, it deals with lots of social issues such as religious intolerance, same sex relationships and people who don¿t conform to mainstream thinking. The heartland of America is shown as a microcosm of society in general and deals with timely issues that divide us.--------------- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted September 6, 2010

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    Posted December 9, 2011

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    Posted March 30, 2010

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    Posted November 29, 2009

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    Posted December 18, 2009

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