"The Wine of Violence" by Neil S. Boardman is a well written novel from 1964 about a murder mystery in a fictional small town in Minnesota. The author takes an actual murder case from southern Austria in 1886 and produces a story that captures Minnesota values and parochial customs. Boardman was born in Stillwater, so his local knowledge is genuine.
The story unfolds very methodically, with superb character development and often wry humor. Each of the residents of the town where the action occurs believes that he or she knows everyone else's business, and thus makes assumptions as to guilt or innocence based on prejudgment rather than fact.
The first section of the book is an introduction to the town, its residents and the main characters in the drama by the town doctor. The central figure is Howard Breckwine, an unpopular local butcher, described as sullen, mean-tempered and often drunk. Breckwine has a well-liked former wife, a stepson, and a former girlfriend (Helen Miscola) as well as a current wife.
The action involves the legal proceedings following the murder of Miscola, who is found in a local barn, recently rented by Breckwine, pregnant and with her head crushed by a meat cleaver. She went to Breckwine's house the night of the murder and demanded money from him. The case is entirely circumstantial, and no murder weapon ever found. Yet, everyone in town suspects that Breckwine is guilty. In fact, no one could imagine that anyone else could be guilty.
The story is told in three parts, each titled a "confession." They roughly correlate to the inquest, the trial and its aftermath. At the end, the mystery is resolved, and the cold truth is revealed. While some aspects of the book seem a bit dated, the story skillfully demonstrates the timeless theme of how prejudice and narrow-mindedness can lead to injustice.