Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


LIGHTNING STRIKE by William Kent Krueger: Book Review

William Kent Krueger is one of the most lyrical authors around, a fact that he proves once again in Lightning Strike, a look back to the childhood of Cork O’Connor, the protagonist of many of his novels.

It’s 1963 in the small town of Aurora, Minnesota.  Although there isn’t much in the way of major crime in the North Country, there are ethnic tensions that are either close to the surface or bubbling above it.  The area is home to its white, Christian population descended mainly from Irish and Scandinavian settlers and its Native Ojibwe people.

There is distrust in both cultures, and it all comes to a head when Cork O’Connor and his friend Jorge come upon the body of Big John hanging from a tree in the area called Lightning Strike on the shore of Iron Lake.

Because of Big John’s many battles with alcohol, the authorities aren’t too surprised that there are two empty bottles of Four Roses on the ground near his body, although “I thought he’d kick the booze for good,” Cork’s father, Sheriff Liam O’Connor, tells his two deputies and the mortician who come to Lightning Strike after Cork runs home with the news of his discovery.  It looks like an open-and-shut suicide, but Liam wants to be sure.  So he asks for a toxicology report, “just to be on the safe side.”

However, that’s not enough for the Iron Lake Band of Ojibwe, living on a reservation just outside of Aurora and under the jurisdiction of the Tamarack County Sheriff’s office.  Not surprisingly, members of the tribe have little confidence in any form of the official government, even when the forensics report confirms that Big John was intoxicated when he died.

To them the sheriff is just another chimook, a white man, without understanding or reverence for Ojibwe customs and beliefs, even though he is married to Colleen, the daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a white father.  They have lost belief, if they ever had it, in Liam’s trustworthiness and ability to conduct an impartial investigation.

One of the most vociferous voices raised against Natives in general and Big John in particular is Duncan MacDermid.  He has a virulent dislike of Indians and a violent temper, something his abused wife can attest to.  With MacDermid on one side and Liam’s mother-in-law on the other, every move the sheriff makes alienates one of the groups.

There are other threads in Lightning Strike in addition to Big John’s death, including a missing teenage Native girl and the feelings of Natives after they leave the reservation.  The author writes about the Relocation Act of 1956, an act of Congress that pays for relocation for Indians to encourage them to leave their reservations and move to locations where there are better schools and jobs.   On paper it sounded good, Cork’s grandmother Dilsey tells him, but the reality was different.  It was, she tells him, “another attempt to eradicate the Native cultures.  They tried blankets tainted with smallpox.  They tried guns.  They tried boarding schools.  Now they’re trying this.”

Lightning Strike is an outstanding mystery and a poignant novel.  As always the author’s characters are completely believable, and the story will tug at your heartstrings.

You can read more about William Kent Krueger 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 OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

Leave a Reply