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Book Author: William Kent Krueger

SULFUR SPRINGS by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

A stranger in a strange land is how Cork O’Connor feels when he finds himself far from his beloved Minnesota woods, thrust into the desert of southern Arizona.

Cork and his bride, Rainy, have known each other for several years but married only a few months ago.  The first time Cork met his wife’s son and daughter was at their wedding, and Cork admits to himself that he doesn’t have strong feelings toward them.

But when Rainy gets a garbled message left on her cell phone from her son, saying that he’s killed a man, Cork and Rainy are thrust into a search for Peter that leads them into a deadly web of international crime.

The couple leave for Arizona the following morning, and on the trip Rainy tells Cork that there are many important things he doesn’t know about her, one being that if her son did kill someone in Arizona, he’s not the only one in his family who has done that.  Obviously that’s a major secret, and it turns out to be not the only one that she has kept from Cork.

Peter had gone to Arizona to recover from an addiction to pain medication, the result of a sports injury.  After he was clean, the Goodman Center, an alcohol and drug treatment facility, hired him, and as far as his mother and stepfather knew, he was still on their staff.  But after they arrive in Tucson and drive to the Center, they discover that Peter hasn’t worked there in over a year.

The Center’s director tells them that she believes he has been working at a vineyard owned by Jayne and Frank Harris, so Cork and Rainy head to the vineyard’s location in Sulfur Springs.  The Harrises acknowledge that Peter is employed there but tell Cork and Rainy that although he’s been an extremely reliable worker, he hasn’t been at work that day.  And visits to the Sulfur Springs post office and police station turn up no further information on the missing man.

The issue of immigrants trying to enter the United States from Mexico ties into the racism faced by Rainy, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, when a sheriff stops Rainy and Cork while they’re driving and examines her closely to make certain she actually is the Native American she says she is and not someone trying to get into the country from Mexico.  As Rainy says to her husband after they continue on their way, “If I was white, he wouldn’t have taken a second look at me.”

Cork is a former sheriff and a quarter Native American, and he brings to the search for his stepson his law background, his feelings about racism, and his love for his new wife.   This is a masterful novel, with issues that resonate all-too-clearly in today’s world.  There’s a lot going on–drug addiction, illegal aliens, Mexican drug cartels, blended families, and racism–with each part adding to the whole.

I’ve reviewed two of William Kent Kruger’s earlier books, Trickster’s Point and Ordinary Grace, the latter the winner of the 2014 Edgar for Best Novel.  You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

Ordinary Grace is a wonderful, brilliant novel.  I’ve written about William Kent Krueger’s earlier book, Trickster’s Point, and Ordinary Grace surpasses even that excellent one with its beauty and understanding of family and human dynamics.

The book’s narrator, Frank Drum, is thirteen during the summer of 1961.   Frank’s father is a Methodist minister in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota, a man of God in the best sense.  Frank’s mother conducts the choir in New Bremen and in two other small churches where her husband is the clergyman.  Although she has a beautiful voice and had hoped for a professional career, she is now resigned, but not happily, to living the life of a minister’s wife.

Frank’s eighteen-year-old sister Ariel is a talented pianist and composer who has been accepted to the Julliard School of Music, her lifelong dream.  But now, for some unstated reason, she tells her family she doesn’t want to go, that she would rather stay home and go to the local college and study music.

Frank’s younger brother is Jake, eleven years old.  Jake has a terrible stutter, making him the object of teasing and bullying to the point where he almost never speaks in public or in school.  At home his stutter disappears, but outside that safe environment he becomes almost mute.

Ordinary Grace opens with two deaths in a matter of hours.  The first is that of Bobby Cole, a young developmentally challenged boy who was killed on the town’s railroad trestle.  Did he simply not hear the train coming, or did something more sinister happen?  The next day Frank and Jake find the body of an itinerant man in nearly the same place.  That’s a lot of death for such a small town, but there are more deaths to come.

There’s a great deal of tension in New Bremen.  The relationship between Ruth and Nathan Drum is not an easy one, and she is unable or unwilling to understand the importance of God in her husband’s life, how he can keep his faith no matter what tragedies befall the town or the family.

There is an uneasy relationship between Ruth and her daughter’s piano teacher, Emil Brandt.  Ruth and Emil had been engaged very briefly years earlier, but he abandoned her and fled to New York City to pursue his career.  Now he’s returned home, badly scarred and blinded in a fire, his house kept by his sister Lise.  Lise is autistic, and her devotion to her brother is extreme.

But ordinary grace is seen throughout the book, especially in the person of Nathan Drum.  As a clergyman he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers when bad things happen to good people, but his faith in God remains secure. And through his goodness his family and his town manage to survive.

William Kent Krueger has written another outstanding novel, a coming-of-age story that will resonate with the reader long after the last page is read.  His characters are beautifully drawn, and life in a small town in the mid-twentieth century is detailed and accurate.

You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.

TRICKSTER’S POINT by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

A small Minnesota town, next to an Ojibwe reservation, is the site of the killing of Jubal Little, independent candidate for governor of the state. And former sheriff Cork O’Connor was with Jubal while he lay dying with an arrow in his body.

In the remote area of Minnesota where the novel takes place, hunting is a major pasttime.  Serious hunters, like Cork and Jubal, make their own arrows.  Each hunter creates a unique design, called fletching, that makes the arrows immediately identifiable to other hunters.  The arrow protruding from Jubal’s body has the markings that are on all of Cork’s arrows.

Although those townspeople who know Cork don’t believe he had anything to do with Jubal’s death, all concede it is strange that Cork made no attempt to get help but stayed with Jubal for the three hours it took him to die.  And Cork’s comments that Jubal asked him to stay and not leave him alone to die ring a bit hollow to the state detective who is called in to handle the investigation.

Cork and Jubal go way back, back to childhood when Jubal and his mother moved to the town of Aurora. Tall, good-looking, and smart, Jubal was outstanding in everything he did, in every sport he played.  But it was his relationship with Winona, an Ojibwe girl, that was to rule his life.

It seems as if nearly every boy in Aurora was a bit in love with Winona Crane.  Cork and Jubal were two of them, but it was obvious to Cork that Winona’s heart belonged to Jubal and vice versa.  They were, according to a tribal healer, two parts of the same broken stone.  That’s a beautiful image, but a disturbing one as well.

Trickster’s Point has narratives in the present and in the past.  Secrets long held by Cork, Jubal, Winona, her twin brother Willie, and others in the town are slowly revealed, and as mystery readers know, the longer secrets are hidden, the more devastating it is when they come to light.

Cork O’Connor is a strong character.  He’s had lots of deaths in his life, and although he’s conscientiously trying to stay away from trouble, it always seems to find him.  His wife was murdered, and he’s done his best by his two children, even giving up his job as sheriff to remove himself from dangers that might take him from them.  But danger follows him, with or without his badge. You can call it fate, or karma, but it seems there’s no escaping it for Cork.

William Kent Krueger is the winner of multiple Anthony Awards for his novels, and you will understand why when you read Trickster’s Point or any of the earlier mysteries in the series.

You can read more about William Kent Krueger at his web site.