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IN BRIEF

Fiction

September 29, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

BRENDAN PRAIRIE by Dan O'Brien (Scribner: $22, 256 pp.). At the groundbreaking for a subdivision at Brendan Prairie, a pristine meadow in South Dakota's Black Hills, a man is killed by sabotaged machinery. Suspicion touches on Bill Malone, a falconer and fervent environmentalist. Margaret Adamson, his former lover, now a federal official, joins the investigation. So do politicians who favor development and big-time gambling in the area. Caught in the jaws of their machinery are Malone's daughter, Allison, and his friend, Cooney Jenkins, a gentle hermit with a mental disability.

Dan O'Brien ("Spirit of the Hills") is a rancher and wildlife biologist as well as a novelist. His deep knowledge of, and affection for, the Black Hills permeates "Brendan Prairie," a tightly plotted mystery whose real concerns are character--what has made Malone, in middle age, retreat from passionate engagement in life, drink too much and lose interest in his beloved birds?--and the forces in our culture that "see the whole world and everything in it as a commodity." O'Brien is no poet--one can't help wondering what somebody like Cormac McCarthy could do with this material--but his prose conveys authenticity and its own quiet power.

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