By Thomas Maltman

Soho Press, $25; 335 pp.

In a small southwestern Minnesota farming community, a teenage boy uses a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun to shoot down the sheriff, then runs into the woods where he turns the gun on himself. The townspeople, devout Lutherans descended from the German immigrants who first plowed these lands, are not surprised, for all along “they knew this place belonged to the devil, had always belonged to him.”

Thomas Maltman’s Little Wolves is novel of atrocity and revenge passed down through the generations of three families whose lives have become entangled in rural Lone Mountain. The Gundersons rule the town: Will, patriarch and sheriff, imposed his version of the law for more than two decades; his sons, Kelan and Lee, are reared in his image.

The Fallons are ne’er-do-wells: father, Grizz, like his grandfather, has served a term in prison; his son, Seth, was marked as a loner and failure before he killed.

The Warrens are interlopers: Logan has come to lead the Lutheran church as successor to the rigid Pastor Schoenwald; his wife, Clara, heavily pregnant, has returned to the town her parents fled before her birth.

Maltman’s characters know evil and sin. They believe in ghosts and their dominion. They impose the past upon the present. They mete out brutality to their neighbors and expect the same in return. Their stories coalesce to create a novel of rare power. As their pastor, Logan Warren preaches salvation through forgiveness. His is a lonely voice on the high prairie.

Ben Martin